Thursday, January 31, 2013

Star Wars Abrams, Amazon, Netflix, Youtube, HBO Updates

This post is a bit shameful as it's about news that's already weeks old by now. I'd meant to post all of this earlier, but hadn't found the time with my busy schedule. I went with the posts I was already preparing - hell, I don't know how much people enjoy the Netflix and Streaming news I used to cover, anyway...

So let's start off with an image, shall we? Last week, we got the news that JJ Abrams is going to direct the next Star Wars picture, the first to come out under the new Disney banner. Now, I've had a long-standing issue with some of the tropes in JJ Abrams' film and TV work. He's a fine technical director, but I don't like how he handles characters and the audience.

But other fans had even more fun with this news, and they immediately started making gifs and images, many of which mock one of the most typical visual elements of JJ's work: the lens flare. I think the one on the right is my favorite, and I hope you laugh along with me now.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Question for the Week of Jan 28-Feb 3: Retro Opening Credits

What recent movie do you think nails the use of its retro-style opening credit sequence?

Easy peasy: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I have a lot of love for this movie, for a variety of reasons (I wanted it for another post, but lacked the embed clips). I'm really happy with the interaction between Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, the story is funny and told in a fun way, and I like the script...

The credits sequence, however, is both fine and unexpected.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Honest Trailers: LotR

I'm keeping things brief today because yesterday's review of The Words had some fluke where the last 4 paragraphs became one big clumped-together paragraph. It was extra-weird, since the error only popped up once I made a few corrections - then the two times I corrected that, it reappeared immediately... Anyway, after yesterday's sucky experience, I'll just get to the point and go.

It's another week, and so we have another Fan-made Gem! This time out, it's an Honest Trailer entry - for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Words Review: Bloody Awful

I went to a friend's house to hang out. I almost never use cable services to order movies, but Rachel wasn't in the mood for any of my DVDs and I wasn't in the mood for hers. So we looked through all of the On-Demand film offerings, and Rachel was interested in The Words. She said it sounded good, and I was convinced when I looked at the cast: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons... We both figured we were in for a good film.

We were both wrong.

The Words seemed to start off well enough - the cinematography was pretty, with little dialogue, scenes of Bradley and Zoe preparing for a big social event; he's getting an award, but he looks unhappy... and the rain creates an atmosphere.

However, it still invited some mockery early on because of the intrusive voiceover work. After a few moments of Cooper and Saldana, Dennis Quaid's voice pops in to narrate what's occurring on screen, and it just didn't work. Even as I was gamely sinking in to it, the narration felt kind of odd, describing what didn't need to be described - Quaid's voice adding nothing.

It began as a simple, minor mistake, having the VO tell us that an old man is watching a successful writer as he gets into a limo. Great, we now know that this is something important. As the picture goes on, such clumsy narration is used until it gets funny...

And, oh god, the story! On its surface, The Words is a highly-clever story-within-a-story-within-a-story-within- ugh! I'll just describe the entire plot, because you shouldn't have to sit through it yourself:

Bradley plays a struggling writer with a great girlfriend (Saldana). He writes a fine novel, but an agent who meets with Bradley tells him that his work is "too bold" for a first-time novelist; no one, we're told, would tolerate such out-of-the-box art. Bradley struggles with money issues (though we have no idea why Zoe isn't contributing financially, herself), which he resolves by taking a mailroom job at a publishing company. He also marries his girl, and honeymoons in Paris, which he can somehow afford.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Reviewing with Others, Pt 37: Swoon

After a little spell of not doing these indie movie reviews, I've finally watched and written about Swoon. In part, it was the film's fault: Swoon is a dense and bold work, and it's the sort of film that you really need to pay attention to - while all this is not usually a problem for me, I've been overworked, pressed for time, and I wanted to do right by this picture.

As such, you'll be able to read my review over at Man, I Love Films shortly. I'll add the link once I give it a final pass. [Update 1: I decided to give myself more time, so I'll have it up by noon tomorrow] [Update 2: I did not expect that I would publish this near midnight on Sunday and only be satisfied with my review by Tuesday at 10PM EST - it's later than I promised, but this movie is both complex and high-quality, and so I needed extra time to make sure that I did it some justice. I hope that my words were worthy of the subject, and that you enjoy the same...]

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Reviewing with Others, Pt. 36, sorta: Top 10 of 2012

It's funny, the Indie Spotlight reviews I do for Man, I Love Films require a score (tho it's hearts, not stars), which is something I don't give to my film coverage here. Similarly, I posted my unusual Year-End Roundup in December, listing my best and worst experiences. I wrote a little about each entry, but I didn't provide anything like a top 10 list.

Well, guess what? Man, I Love Films asked me for a top 10 of 2012 list, with no explanation or text, and the lists of the site's writers went up today, near the end of January. Yes, that site and mine handled these things in opposite ways, but I'm happy that they waited 'til now, as I've been incredibly busy, and the delay gave me a chance to see at least one more 2012 movie (Django).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bill Murray as The Dark Knight's Joker

Youtube user "habibistheman" lives up to his handle with this great clip, which is one of the best Fan-made Gems to ever appear on this site. Using shots from one of my 90's favorites, Quick Change, this clever bloke spliced those scenes into Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. And so, somehow, Bill Murray becomes the Joker in Nolan's tDK.

Quick Change is a film I've wanted to review, but I'm never sure whether to give it the possibly-excessive-if-I-don't-restrain-myself full review treatment, or whether to just cover it in an MRQ. It's a great comedy with that features New York City at its most NYC - where a successful bank heist is followed by the worst possible run of bad luck, preventing the robbers from being able to accomplish the simple task of grabbing their luggage and getting to the airport.

In case you can't tell, I think habibistheman's video is really well-done, so if you only bother checking out one Fan-made Gem this year, let it be this one:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Die Hard Has Come To This?

The first time I saw Die Hard, I was floored. It was so funny, and so intense, and the action was so good. I understand why Bruce Willis catapulted from a TV star to a film mega-star. I also understand why the Die Hard formula was copied over and over - the insane fight against the odds in a cramped location made for an undeniably engaging experience.

In another post, I might write a lot of words about at least one of its sequels, which grew less satisfying with every film. I might also write about the original film, which I adoringly reviewed two Christmases ago - and I might note that the series is a combination of a disaster pic (e.g., The Towering Inferno) and an action film (e.g., Escape from New York, Lethal Weapon).

The last thing I would do is bag on Bruce Willis for getting older. This is a natural thing, and I'm not that superficial or cheap... Bruce hasn't had a lot of obvious plastic surgery done, nor ever tried to hide his hair loss (he's always looked good, in every phase of his battle with going bald)...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Question for the Week of Jan 21-27: Favorite Dream Sequence

What's your favorite dream sequence in a film?
The dream sequence is a favorite tool of film-makers. On the one hand, you can make impossible things happen, kill characters, and break most every rule of traditional narrative and dialogue. Often these moments are used to scare the audience, or to have the dreaming character realize something...

I wish I could be more sophisticated about this. I wish I could go with the dreams that Salvador Dali designed for Hitchcock's Spellbound. The dreams in Coen films like Raising Arizona or The Hudsucker Proxy. Or the horrifying vision of bike destruction in Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Or even more obvious recent options, like Inception or Dreamscape. Huge swaths of each take place in the mind.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: Django Unchained

For the past ten years, Quentin Tarantino's cinematic output has been focused entirely on revenge fantasies. Over the course of five films (four, if you count Kill Bill Volumes I and II as a single film) Tarantino has explored revenge across multiple, pulpy genres (including the Kung Fu flick, the war film, and the ultraspecific 1970s/80s muscle car movie mini genre) taking on the natural urges for payback felt by wronged contract killers, Jews during the Holocaust, and the female victims of sexual predators.

Tarantino's latest foray into the revenge milieu is Django Unchained, a pre-Civil War Western/Blaxploitation film set against the backdrop of Southern slavery. Like the other films of Tarantino's revenge period, it's not for those weak of stomach or short on patience. But amid the stylish gore and slick modern musical cues, Django actually has some interesting things to say about slavery and filmic revenge.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Question for the Week of Jan 14-20: Movie + Soundtrack

What are your favorite movie soundtracks?
Movie scores are always fun to talk about; most film fans are pretty passionate about the score/music to their favorite pictures. I'll take this question as "which movies do I own both in video and audio." I find that if a movie has a soundtrack that good, I'd probably get the movie as well....

In my case, there's even more to consider: CDs used to be really expensive, so buying a movie's soundtrack when it wasn't in the top 40 or whatever meant that you thought it was really, really good. A few of these discs I picked up for $18, *shudder*.

[UPDATE: This post went up at 10AM and I just took 10 minutes of my lunch break to fix any typos. The 9 or so people who already saw this aren't being treated as well as everyone who showed at 1:15PM or later, and I'm sorry for that. I couldn't come in to edit until now...]

Pulp Fiction - there's really nothing left to say about the soundtrack. Unfortunately, many of its songs have been overused to death in lame ads, so, in all honesty, I probably wouldn't like hearing them anymore. You've screwed me again, corporate America!

Grosse Point Blank - although I don't own the second cd (no seriously, there were a lot of songs in this movie), I was taken with the picture - and its excellent soundtrack - from the first time I saw it. I caught a free preview with one friend, saw it two days later with a girl I was dating, then saw it again with a friend a week or so after that.

I wanted to use the scene where Debi plays The Specials, but I can't find it.

The Mystery of Rampo - this is a fantastic Japanese film, artistic and intellectual, but engages you very early on; yet it's very emotional. Between those last four compliments and the inventive plot, the style, the acting, and the cinematography, The Mystery of Rampo really bears every grace that a picture can have.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Great Moments in Film Hero Failure

Nobody's perfect, right? We all make mistakes, and I think that too many pictures show characters that are either error-prone to an insane degree or altogether too perfect.

And so we come to one of my favorite moments in film - in an ironic way. Gleaming the Cube is the 1980's Christian Slater skateboarding pic that makes everyone laugh at the ridiculous impenetrability of its title. There are some nice things about this pic: the acting isn't bad, especially for a teen movie, and I like that Slater's lead has a Vietnamese adoptive brother that he adores. I also love the silliness of our lead trying to fight major drug gangs with his deck.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Just Watched Django

I just saw Django Unchained with DJ; yes, we watch films together sometimes. It was a complicated experience - although Django is a "good" movie, and I laughed harder than I expected, I had no way to understand what I was feeling afterwards, much less try to explain it.

One/both of us will follow up on this pic later. If you want a (forced) recommendation: It made me laugh hard, had some strong performances, and was shot beautifully; the issue of slavery was not-disrespectful and felt horrifying, QT worked tension on me like he hasn't since Pulp, and somehow, I actually didn't flinch at every n-bomb, after a while.

Also: holy s--t, $14 for a ticket?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

(Lousy) Cell Phones in Film

How ridiculous is the usage of cell phones in film?

I'm on record, if in a slight way, as decrying the TV/Film approach towards science. However, we've come to a point where certain cliches have grown to prominence, and I should take the time - the time in this absurd future date of 2013 (2013: Rise of the Origins of the Dark!)- to point one out. In this case, it's the convenience of cell phone reception and its use in film. I'm glad that someone made a video highlighting it:

Monday, January 14, 2013

MRQ XII - Weird Mix-Pack Version

Oh my goodness, it's been such a long time since the last round of Movie Review Quickies. I didn't try to fix that, as I post much more frequently now. The MRQ before that was all horror, fitting for Halloween, but I wanted this one to be more... chaotic. Surprises let you know I care, right?

The length of each review is also a mix - a few are short, and one is a bit long. I'll probably try a truly quick run through another 7 films at the middle/end of Winter 2013. In fact, next time, I think it'll be a quick spin through 7 of my guilty pleasure films, or maybe movies I've changed my opinions about... I have individual links so you can just jump to any review you want (they'll be up by 11AM [UPDATE: 12:30PM, oops]), and I hope you enjoy what I'm covering: The Expendables, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Showdown in Little Tokyo, Orgazmo, Foolproof, Blue Velvet, and Super Troopers.

The Expendables

Only the most extreme boredom and mind-draining labor could make me watch a movie that I expected to hate. Which is fortunate, because that's exactly the mood that I was in when I queued this up. The Expendables is a fairly fun picture that does somehow successfully recycle old 1980's action stars and tropes for a decent (if hollow) picture.

On the one hand, folks like Stallone and Statham have their careers because they have strong charisma and a physicality that lends itself nicely to violent films; both of them can also act just fine, even if they rarely seem to take on challenging projects. At the same time, folks like Eric Roberts, Dolph Lundgren, and Mickey Rourke are in this picture to give a massive callback to "the old days" of b-grade action pix. Looking at their IMDb pages says it all, really.

At the same time, though, we have Jet Li appearing as a callback to 90's action movies, which makes him incongruous. And it's in his casting that you can start to pull out some important threads from the sweater here. Li is there to kick people and make it look amazing - he's never developed to give him any real depth. Nor is Lundgren - he does nice work as the bad guy, but it's a very bare-bones sort of role and the script could've done more with him, easily.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Question for the Week of Jan 7-13: Unsolicited Advice

Do you have any ideas for how to improve some of the problems you discuss here? Lots of people talk about things that bother them - that's only complaining unless you try to make things better...
Nice one! Now, I could rely on the typical response - that I feel drawing attention to these issues is an effort to improve the state of affairs. It's a true statement, and I am the sort of person to point out problems so that we're aware of and can deal with them. But I like being atypical, too, so I can offer one constructive example right here and now.

Y'know how Arnold Schwarzenneger films used to be a blast, and then they started getting worse and worse? I mean in terms of things like being well-written, having a solid story, etc etc. Y'know how the same thing happened with Sylvester Stallone's films? I think I have a fairly suggestion for how they can turn things around a bit; it's asinine to offer such advice to professionals when I'm not even in their profession, but...

I think that guys like that should start taking non-lead performances, and/or star more in ensemble films. I want to believe good things about Stallone's acting abilities; every time I look at the guy, I remember Rocky. I've liked several of his roles, but it always comes back to that damn boxing, and the fine work he did therein.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Reviewing with Others, Pt. 35: The Typewriter

Some site notes before we get started: for one, if anyone cares about my schedule, my next Reviewing with Others posts will be the seminal gay picture Swoon, followed byGut, a thriller. My schedule has been a bit weird lately, but I'm still posting more than 4x/week. That should drop back to a steady 4 by the end of this month, though.

Also, for my End of 2012 back-patting session, I tried to limit myself to 5 favorites per type of entry. I was shocked that I didn't include the Fan-made Gem with "Achilles' Last Stand" playing over a clip from Game of Thrones (which I still haven't watched). I'm not ashamed to state that the clip brings me raw joy, I'm just ashamed it didn't get mentioned.

Back to today's news: I've seen the documentary film The Typewriter (in the 21st Century), and reviewed it over at Man, I Love Films. Follow that link to learn how my viewing experience went...

I'll see you all tomorrow or Friday, depending on how quickly I can edit this week's Question.
Half a Film Student

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hollywood Studios Fear Gay Films (still)

Last Saturday, I was shocked to learn that some film-studio types want to make the same stupid mistakes over and over again. I'm less shocked by the poor choices than I am by the predictability of the subject matter. Today's post is all about this problem....

It's been a while since I learned that Soderbergh was going to make a film about famous piano player Liberace. I didn't know that Michael Douglas would be taking the lead role, nor that Liberace's young male lover would be played by Matt Damon - I found both of those facts out when I read Saturday's Yahoo! article on the film. And I do think that article is worth reading...

Apparently, Steven Soderbergh shopped his story to every studio, asking for a $5 Million budget for a movie that would have 3 oscar winners attached. And one of those stars was Matt Damon, who just left a very popular action franchise... Yet no Hollywood studio wanted to do the project. They were all put off by how "gay" Soderbergh's picture would be...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Looper Parody Fan-made Gem

What would you do if you met your past self? What would you do if you met your future self? Rian Jordan's fine Looper asked those questions, and showed us its answers - at least, as constrained by the intense, action-fueled violent situation that serves as the story's main premise. A scifi/romance would've played differently.

I had a fine time watching Looper - yes, I'll review it soon - and was happy to see its great success ($166M on a $30M budget). However, if  you know me personally or read the opening paragraphs of my site's About page, you know I seldom say "I'm not gay" - rather, "I'm the only man I'm attracted to."

Friday, January 4, 2013

Save the Date Review

[Update: I finished revising this review at about 1PM; it needed a few tweaks, so the six of you that read it early today might want to come back.] Save the Date is about two contrary and complex sisters, as well as their relationship with each other and the men in their lives. As you can see by looking over my recent on-site Reviews (this is the 99th), I haven't had a lot of time to watch thoughtful pictures aside from my Reviewing with Others indie movie entries. I can say that even if I wasn't starved for some "real" cinema, I would have enjoyed this film greatly; and I don't care about the kiddie, blockbuster, and Oscar-bait flix that are in theaters now - Save the Date definitely deserves to be in wide release, too.

At the start, we see the artistic Sarah (Caplan) as she works on her black and white drawings. We learn that she's uncomfortable about moving in with her guitarist boyfriend, Kevin (Arend). Her sister, Beth (Brie), is helping her move. The tension that Sarah feels over such a relationship "big step" is overt, but we also pick up on the dynamic between Sarah and her sister: Beth is clearly the upbeat, sort of vanilla, sibling who has her act together, whereas Sarah is just living her life with no real plan or goal. Their interaction doesn't just provide plot exposition, it sets up the realistic vibe of the relationships - a realism we will see play out between all of the characters over time.

Beth, conveniently enough, is getting hitched to Kevin's drummer, Andrew (Starr), and all of them help Sarah and her man move in together. The problem comes at the next scene between the two men... Kevin wants to marry Sarah - when Andrew sees the ring, he suggests that Kev propose on stage, at their next gig. After a series of failed warnings, the guitarist pops the question in front of everybody, and the flighty, barely-reading-for-cohabitation Sarah just walks away.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Question for the Week of Dec 31-Jan 6: Best Against-Type Role

Some actors appear in the same types of roles over and over. What's the biggest or best surprise you ever got from a performer taking an unexpected role?
WOW! Brilliant question, easy answer: Mad Dog and Glory, and it's even better because it's a double-switch. In John McNaughton's 1993 romantic dramedy, Robert DeNiro plays not the typical cop: he's a shy forensic photographer. His life is quiet and lonely and simple. He is not brave, and he may very well have "given up" on life being anything other than a slow grind. Meanwhile, Bill Murray plays a hardcore mob boss who tries to do standup - and bombs every joke. You can see this perverse idea in the trailer, below.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Enough Already, Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I still remember the first time I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was already experienced with horror films by then, having seen many Friday the 13th films, Peter Jackson splatter pics, and even several Dario Argento movies. A film student girlfriend suggested we watch this seminal pic, and I agreed.

And holy s--t, 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a seriously-disturbing movie.

Nothing about the antagonist's actions make sense; it's not even as clear as "you laughed at them, now they want you dead" - you have a handful of total psychos, and you don't know when their freakness will come out swinging. It's an utterly unexplained situation, which makes it all the scarier; like all stark survival experiences, motive means nothing. I'm at least partly unsettled because I know the bad guys were based a bit on Ed Gein, the serial killer who used his victims bones and flesh for household arts and crafts projects...