Monday, September 30, 2013

Recommended: Netflix gets BBC's Cracker

In 1993, the BBC began airing Cracker, a crime procedural that I feel greatly influenced television series for at least 15 years after - and, no, I'm not just referring to ABC's abortive remake of the show. Just as Graendal and Wide Sargasso Sea were narratives from the point of view of a "villainous" figure, so too was this one of the first real anti-hero TV shows.

Cracker begins with Robbie Coltrane's Fitz Fitzgerald losing money on the horses he just bet on. We immediately cut to the same man delivering a University lecture in which he hurls books by famous psychologists and philosophers straight at the seats of the students assembled before him. He closes this bombastic intro by asking, “Moral. What’s the moral?...” Then he answers by telling the people listening that they have to study themselves and “the dark recesses” of their own souls – and that only then will they have found “the right time to open a book.”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Question for the Week of Sept 23 - 29 : Favorite Romantic Comedy

What's your favorite romantic comedy?

Well, I had a different question prepared for today, but I'm hyper busy, so I had to abandon that incomplete post so I could take on a Question that was almost complete. I'm increasingly unsure that I'll be able to complete my goal of 2 years worth of weekly Questions, but at least this is a question worth answering...

So I'll just give it to you straight: it's a three-way tie between The Princess Bride, Splash, and When Harry Met Sally. It's funny, as they're the same films I offhandedly named as my three favorites in 2011.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Recommended: Arrow

There's no bigger booster than a reformed skeptic. In the early 2000's, I was excited because The WB aired a series called Smallville, which was about Superman's teen years growing up in Kansas. I stuck it out for a variety of eps, but I grew contemptuous of the show - eventually calling it "Small, Vile."

Specifically, Smallville had two failings for every strength. It relied on the monster-of-the-week episode format excessively, and combined this with a refusal to progress the story and character because that would mean that they'd be writing about Superman, not a teen Clark Kent. Every nice bit of good dialogue was balanced out by a few groaners. The fx were used so sparingly as to be silly. And some of the acting was really, really not good.

It got old fast, is what I'm saying.

So 2012 rolls around and I learn that The WB's successor, CW Network, is airing Arrow, a series about Oliver Queen, aka the Green Arrow - DC Comics' vigilante Robin Hood figure who regularly teams up with Superman and Batman and others. And I assumed it would capital-S suck. I was even more skeptical because I heard that Smallville had added the Green Arrow to its cast - and though I had long-since stopped following that program, I did read some hilarious reviews about how bad Clark Kent's adventures really got.

So imagine my surprise when I checked out Arrow and it's actually quite good. I'm recommending it now, right? Surely something must have turned me around when I tuned in prepared to mock it mercilessly. The show was, simply put, a complete 180 from Smallville. Where the earlier series had poor dialogue, Arrow had good lines. Where the WB's effort was in stasis, the CW's showed constant plot, story, and character progression. While Clark Kent's outings featured poor special effects, Oliver Queen's adventures were full of good visuals and great fight sequences.

The story: we begin with billionaire playboy Oliver Queen's unexpected return to his hometown, Starling City. The guy disappeared 5 years ago with his father and some others; all of them were sailing on a yacht and presumed to have perished in a storm. Ollie comes home, but it's not all wine and roses. For one thing, our lead was a spoiled, irresponsible jerk - he never worked, always partied, and he left on that boat trip with his then-girlfriend's sister!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Abridged Scripts, a Fan-made Gem Site

A couple of years ago, Unreality Mag posted a great Fan-made Gem. I'd meant to share it for some time, but only got around to it now. The Editing Room is a site that specializes in writing one-page scripts that neatly mock major motion pictures. They're terribly funny, and since they're often only one page long, you'd have to be quite lazy to not read at least a few.

They're often fairly clever, and can be gut-bustingly funny the more familiar you are with any particular picture. This is a very fine idea, and it's been nicely-executed.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Great Moments In... Film Phone Calls

Today's latest installment comes to me from Clipnation, which has quickly proven itself to be one of the most useful web resources I will ever know - at least for films. You see, a couple of months back, Clipnation introduced me to one of the most insane phone calls to ever occur in the history of film:

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman Site Goes Live

Two months ago, I wrote about the teaser trailer for writer/director Will' Terran's forthcoming film, The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman. I'm happy, then, to share a little more news about it today.

If you read my review, you'd know that I was very excited by Mr. Terran's prior movie, Id-iology. Even in the RwO post for it, I noted that the picture was difficult and thought-provoking. Given the ugly nature of the personalities and relationships on-screen, I might've simply felt repulsed by the subject matter, but it was instead rewarding because I could envision the artist's hand behind it all.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bill Murray 1980's Interview Impressiveness

Oh, irony of ironies! Less than a day after I update my Fair Warning page with good news about how solid I've been in removing typos, today's post went up with nothing more than a URL to Youtube. Well, after a long day of lawyering, I've fixed the accidental draft post that went up.

Bill Murray Appreciation posts were a happy addition to this site. They allowed me to pay tribute to a fine actor who I greatly admired in my youth, and who has continued to impress over the years since then.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

MRQ XIII: Guilty Pleasures Edition

It's been ages since the last one, but Movie Review Quickies are back! This time out, my 7 selection span a set of guilty pleasure films. We're looking at Brain Donors, The Man in the Iron Mask, Tango & Cash, Mallrats, The Kingdom, Disorganized Crime, and The Evil Dead.

Brain Donors

Brain Donors is a slapstick, mile-a-minute comedy that makes you believe that John Turturro could've been the next Jim Carrey. John plays a shifty, money-grubbing attorney who brings his pals, played by Mel Smith and Bob Nelson, into his latest scheme: to bilk as much money as possible out of a wealthy woman who wants to start a ballet company in honor of her recently-departed spouse.

This picture is ultra-light on plot, but it keeps the laughs coming hard and fast. Nelson and Smith provide excellent support, and it's entertaining to watch Turturro in pure manic overdrive. Some people really split on this picture, which was critically-panned, but people who enjoyed it still remember this 1992 pic and sing its praises.

The Man in the Iron Mask

In 1998, $35 million dollars went into an update of Alexandre Dumas' famous story of a king whose twin has spent years locked up behind a metal mask. A cast of highly-respected international actors - Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, GĂ©rard Depardieu, and Gabriel Byrne - were assembled to play the retired Three Musketeers, with Leo DiCaprio in the titular (and thus dual) roles. The scenery was lovely, as were the costume designs. And yet this movie is horrible.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

QftWo 9/16-9/22: Imposters #9 - You're Next/The Mortal Instruments

I have to give credit to whichever MTA worker decided to place these two posters next to each other. As you're about to see, today's advertisements both mirror each other and resemble each other head-on as well.

Let's start with the graphic for the latest Harry Potter hopeful, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. The first thing I noticed is that it shares the lackluster style of the Elysium poster from last month. The cast here, of course, has nowhere near Matt Damon's profile, so they take up less space - though they are still the dominant part of the image, and are in the same image.

Note that the "city" from the subtitle is even smaller and less-detailed than the futuristic backdrop for Elyisum. Then we have the upper section of the far-left side, which depicts... I'm gonna guess that it's a demon or the film's bad guy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The World's End Review: Pegg, Frost, Wright Did it Again, in Style

I have a history with the makers of The World's End. I watched this team’s first collaboration, the exceptional UK series called Spaced, in 2004; although the series had ended 3 years prior, the comedy was (and is) still minty-fresh. However, Shaun of the Dead, which had most of the same principle players, was due to come out later that year, and I eagerly anticipated it.

I had some problems with Shaun’s shifts between pure comedy and straight, full-on horror, but as I sat beside my Spaced-ignorant friend, DJ, and we both immensely enjoyed its wit and style and jokes. Three years later saw the release of their next work, Hot Fuzz, and it made me fall in love with them even harder. How much did I like HF? I saw Fuzz on a date, and only 20-30 minutes in, I had already decided that I needed to take DJ to see it, in a theater, as soon as possible.

And, so, 6 years on, I was long-since stoked for the finale of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. 12 days ago, I sat down with DJ and my 2 good friends, Tom and Rachel, in a Brooklyn theater - we were all anxious for the latest installment of the combined powrs of Frost, Pegg, and Wright. The 4 of us began laughing shortly after the film began, we kept laughing throughout, and there were a series of excellent surprises that truly impressed us.

In case you know nothing about Cornettos or this trilogy.

The World's End is about Gary King (Pegg), a man who never did anything with his life. He glorifies his high school days – clearly his “peak” – and decides that he will gather his 4 now-estranged school mates. But he’s not doing this to seek help, or atone for past sins, or to re-connect with the people who knew him best. He want sthem to complete “the Golden Mile” with him, a 12-bar pub crawl that they attempted (and failed at) on their graduation day.

Gathering his distant pals is no easy task. For one thing, they’ve all applied themselves and become responsible businessmen and/or husbands. More importantly, however, they all despise Gary because he treated them terribly in the past. But after he manages to cajole each man – it involves lots of lies and confusing speeches – the men all agree to this silly trip back home.

Friday, September 13, 2013

QftWo 9/9-9/15: Imposters #8 - What Happened to JD Salinger?

I don't know why one would bother to make a film poster like the one below, which does so very little. It does nothing to convey anything about its subject or premise; there's just a release date and a title.

I was en English major and, like most people, I read this novel years earlier - in high school. And, although I'd like to think that The Catcher in the Rye has and will endure over time in US classrooms, I cannot imagine how anyone aside from J.D. Salinger's devoted admirers would be drawn into a movie theater by this advertisement.

Dear heaven, I have to assume that anyone short of a JDS fanatic would still be asking, at the very least, "who's in this?" Is this a work of fiction or is it based on real events?

The only praise I can give to such lackluster execution is that at least it reminds me of a Rothko painting I quite like. Yet, in terms of promoting a motion picture, I cannot imagine that the graphic designer involved was aiming for that effect.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Recommended: MST3k

In November, 1988, a local station in Minnesota premiered a show called Mystery Science Theater 3000. No one involved could have predicted how popular the work of a few comedians from the Twin Cities and Wisconsin would become, much less that it'd last 'til 1999.

The basic premise of this show was that a guy, Joel Robinson, was doing janitorial work in a Great Lakes-area laboratory when two mad scientists decided to send him up to a space station against his will. Stranded aboard the Satellite of Love, the scientists (often called "the Mads") force Joel to watch very bad old movies in order to record his response to the stimulus; they want to break his sanity. Joel fights back by turning vital parts of the ship into sentient robots that keep him company during these experiments.

The basic appeal is that Joel's main sidekicks - Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo - are knowledgeable, intelligent and extremely witty. The audience watches the picture at the same time as the three characters, who appear as a three-rows-behind movie theater silhouette while the films play out. They ad-lib lines, mock the on-screen action, and generally crack wise as the flick plays out. The writing is, above all, incredibly, unbelievably funny.

We've all been there: watching bad movies with our friends, making fun of what we're watching... But not everyone is a good comic, and some films are so bad that you can't come up with anything to make the experience fun, much less funny. To that end, the cast of MST3k goes above-and-beyond to generate real entertainment from what should be a painful experience.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

You Shoulda Been a Movie: GTA III

Today marks the third installment of YSBaM, which now has its own tag on this site. I posted the last one, of which I'm super-proud, in 2012, while the first entry, which is also great, was published in 2011. They take some time to complete, so holler if you want more of these.

What feels like a lifetime ago, I played the second GTA for an hour or so. It was insane, and the overhead perspective made the game feel a little more generic – not in a bad way, but there were many top-down mayhem games out at the time, like Postal. I thought it had some neat features, but I wasn’t especially excited by it. I guess the main factor was the short amount of time I had with it.

Then one day I visited my brother, and fired up his new PS2 and introduced me to GTA III. It was love at first sight, or play, or whatever. All I remember was looking at the screen about 20 minutes into the gameplay and feeling a bit breathless. Here – in first person perspective - were living, breathing city streets with an authentic design. People walking on the side walk. Cars driving about. An elevated train rumbled by. The location even looked a bit like parts of Queens, or perhaps the Bronx.

It was nighttime, and before long, it began to rain as well. Claude, the main character, was racing toward a ringing pay phone to receive an interesting and illegal chance to earn some cash. Then with the press of a button, Claude pulled a guy out of a Camaro and took his car for a drive.

Suddenly, the pace of the game became propulsive. Where I had been sprinting and walking for three blocks, I was 5 blocks away in seconds; in fact, I was enjoying my new-found speed a little too much. A bad turn caused me to get my first wanted star for crashing into a cop’s car. As I sped away, I found myself wishing I had chosen a ride with better handling.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Too Similar #3: Alyssa Milano and Tamara Taylor

A while back, I noted that Eric Stoltz looks a lot like Suzy Amis (or at least very much related to her). The following year, I wrote how Justin Bieber resembles a young Corey Haim. Today, I'm writing about a similarity that I noticed over 6 years ago.

Alyssa Jayne Milano was born in Brooklyn in December 1972. Her breakout role came playing the housekeeper's daughter in ABC's 1980's hit comedy, Who's the Boss? As the snarky, street-smart, heavily-Brooklyn-accented Samantha Micelli. After that show ended, she enjoyed a low-key film career (the Arnie vehicle Commando may still be her biggest film), but most of her work has been in television. She was on Charmed, (the 1990's) Melrose Place, and My Name is Earl. This year, she starred in a show called Mistresses.

As you can tell, she's good-looking. And always has been, no matter what look she tries out.

Tamara Taylor, meanwhile, hails from Canada, the land of hockey players and beautiful women. She was born in September 1970, Her father is black, and her mother is white. And I swear to you all, this lovely female is a dead-ringer for Alyssa Milano.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Three Things About: Redbelt

In the interest of trying to boil my writing down into something more manageable, I'm trying out a new series, "Three Things About..." where I'll limit my commentary to three bullet-pointable items. For the inaugural attempt, I'm taking on David Mamet's Redbelt. Here's the trailer--the good trailer, which doesn't feature major spoilers:

1) The Inspiration: Redbelt is the story of Mike Terry  (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a Jiu Jitsu instructor in LA whose school is struggling financially, and who is pressured to fight professionally to make ends meet. Writer/director David Mamet was inspired by his own experiences with Jiu Jitsu, a martial art to which actor Ed O'Neill introduced him. And so we have the delicious image of black belt Al Bundy:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Great Moments in... Talking to Ghosts

A long time ago, Steve Martin played a widowed brain surgeon. He hits a woman with his car, then saves her life. He falls in love with her beautiful face and body. For the first time since his wife passed on, he's starting to have feelings for a woman.

He doesn't know that his victim/love is a cruel woman who marries rich men, cheats on them constantly, and kills them to inherit their property.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Question for the Week of Sept 2-8: I'll Have "a Beer"

Why, oh, why do people in films walk up to a bartender and say "I'll have a beer?"
HAHAHA, this is one of those classic and common bits of movie fakeness - like how often film characters drive in a car and look at a passenger they're talking to far longer than is safe. Or every phone number starting with "555." These are conceits, artificial things about the film or TV world that you're supposed to simply accept. Films and shows come with tropes: lots of rooms are missing a 4th wall, and actors seldom name their drink.

Admittedly, sometimes you don't get what you ordered.

While the one for drivers bothers me no end - sure eye-contact is important, but the two-second rule is far more so - I am fine with the "555" thing because it keeps people from being harassed because they happen to share a phone number used in a picture. Similarly, some people laughed at The Matrix: Reloaded for having obvious roll cages inside the cars in the freeway sequence. Those who complained are idiots.

Personally, it's easier for me to ignore the protection used for the stunt actors than it is to read that people died/were crippled in order to make a rollicking good action scene.

With that said, there are two kinds of people: those who drink beer and those who don't. If you're in the latter category, you see Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut walk into a bar and ask for "a beer" and it probably doesn't bother you at all. However, most post-college beer drinkers know that not all beers are created equal. Some people can't stand "stouts," like Guinness. Others sneer at the cheaper beers like Miller and Budweiser. Still others prefer foreign beverages or micro-brews.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Recommended: Moonlighting

My roommate and I have had some good movie conversations. The guy is intelligent and thoughtful, and his taste is both good and broad. But he's also a bit younger than me. The other day, we were talking about film superstar Bruce Willis, and it suddenly struck me that maybe he wasn't as familiar with Mr. Willis as I was.

That's when I decided to show him a Bruce Willis that I correctly guessed he knew nothing about. See, Bruce used to tend bar in Jersey (yes, that line from Die Hard was a genuine in-joke) before he made his name through acting. Very quickly, he made a stellar break-out as the male lead for a new ABC mystery/comedy/drama, Moonlighting. The TV series opens with former model Madeleine Hayes (Cybill Sheppard), who wakes up one morning to learn that her accountant embezzled almost all her cash and fled to South America. In seconds, she goes from an upscale life of leisure to having to worry about her finances.

Aside from her home and material possessions, the only thing her crooked accountant left her was the Blue Moon Detective Agency. Maddy goes to inspect her last remaining investment and finds that the staff is full of assorted kooks who goof off instead of working. Case in point: the employees' limbo competition in the main room. The receptionist answers the phones with long-winded greetings that always rhyme. Next, she meets the sole manager of this nuthouse, a licensed PI called David Addison (Willis).

Rather than act like a detective or a responsible leader, David's a loud-mouthed ringleader/flirt/big brother to his coworkers. He encourages them to mess around on her dime, which immediately shocks and infuriates Ms. Hayes. She intends to close the failing business, a fact which Addison responds to with guilt, flirtation, pleading, and finally, anger. Despite chasing her away, David genuinely wants to preserve the agency (and his own job), so he relentlessly pursues Maddy to convince her to give it a shot. He breaks through her insistence when fortune sends them a case loaded with danger and international intrigue.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Reviewing with Others Pt. 55: Sushi: The Global Catch

Before we get to it, I got bittersweet news today: at just under 3100 hit, August had the lowest # of hits that I've received in almost 3 years. The upside is that 3000+ monthly hits is great for a site of this stature (or so I believe); the downside is that none of this work was easy.

But it's hard to get worked up about it, considering that I clearly do this writing for myself (and for potential writing clients). Also, this month saw a shift in schedule, where I left some of my mainstay entry types on the side of the road while I reviewed as many indie screeners as possible. Honestly, I barely check any blogs on Sunday, and the twice weekly effort I kept meant that I could only publish these RwO's every Wednesday and Sunday.

Enough of all that, though, let's move on to today's business...

My latest indie screener experience is Sushi: The Global Catch. It's about the popular Japanese invention and its impact on the global fish supply. Beautifully-shot and amazingly well-structured, this documentary was a real home run - for me, at least.

Due to my work at a fundraiser today, my review was published only about 10 minutes ago. You can read it here at Man, I Love Films.