Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reindeer Games, My Holiday 2014 Review

You won't get my annual Year-End Round-up in time for New Year's Eve, but my holiday review is ready for you all. I hope you all have a fun and safe time tonight - unless you're a lousy person, in which case, please have less of those things than I will.

It was a good year for movies, but one of my relatives is dying and a close friend underwent so much emotional trauma as to have a nervous breakdown in my direction. My point: 2014, you were a good year for films, but horrible personally. F off and don't come back.

Reindeer Games is all sorts of insane. It's a John Frankenheimer action film from 2000 with Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Gary Senise, Clarence Williams III, Danny Trejo, James Frain, and Donal Logue AND Ashton Kutcher in a humiliating cameo that will surely warm all our hearts. The movie features violent Santas, gun play, torture with darts, hypothermia, immolation, brutal injuries, prison fights, lots of Charlize naked, implied incest, possible sexual assault, robbery, murder, and betrayal.

So you can see how this is a perfect candidate for my yearly holiday review. It fits right in with shark attacks in the Bahamas during Yuletide, the siege of Nakatomi Plaza, cruel Finnish elves, and a man who dies on his way home before coming back as a snow man who wants to teach his son the perfect slapshot. For now, let's ignore that DJ chose a classy film for his one holiday review.

Rudy (Affleck) and Nick (Frain) are cellmates with a nice rapport. Nick reads aloud the love letters from his pen pal while Rudy does pull ups and teases Nick about what will happen when the woman finally meets him. Over 10 minutes, we get a sense of the friendship between a repentant car thief (Rudy) and a righteous murderer (Nick). But then some guy just out of solitary tries to shank Rudy, and Nick steps in the way for his friend. The cellmates were due for release at the same time, but only Rudy walks out.

Chef takes his cafeteria fare very seriously.

Great Moments In... Fake Band and Song Names

They're not on the screen very long, but there's a huge list of fake band names that are shown on a computer near the end of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. I know that movie has a terrible reputation, but its flaws are few (if large) and I think they're overcome by its exceptional cast and by a whole lot of very funny jokes.

I mean, it's a movie that cast Motley Crue as another band, and yet still had them play this song at the film's start:

Anyway, the list of bands and song titles are - like much of the Renny Harlin-directed, Daniel Waters-written movie - out-of-the-blue and somewhat demented... and I've always thought these quick jokes were funny as hell. If you look closely, some are linked to prior films by the producers of Fairlane.

You should follow the links I provided, but band names include:
-Brain of the Scarecrow
-Alba Varden
-Heather, Corey, Heather Cory and Young
-Todd Times Two

QftWo: 12/29/14-1/4/15 - Imposters #79 - I just couldn't help myself

Because as happy as I was to make Interstellar the last ever poster entry on this site, I had to show it to you.

There's no actual release date, just a month, the tagline is boring, and someone needs to tell the art department that it looks like JLo has a teenage male growing out of her left breast.

More importantly, the second I saw the stupid title of this sure-to-stink "thriller," I could only think

This Winter:


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Big Hero 6 Review - Sooooo Funny

Big Hero 6 was unexpected viewing for me and my friends. We went out to see Whiplash, only to find that many others had the same idea over the sleepy holiday weekend. Our showing was sold out, and we didn't know what to do. As we looked up movie times, suddenly one voice said, "Big Hero 6?! That's supposed to rock! It's starting in 10 minutes!"

As we walked to the other theater nearby, all I could think was (a) that my go-to review site had given it a mediocre grade (a B- is mediocre for this kind of film) and (b) that it didn't really matter - I would just go and try to enjoy a movie in good company. A transit problem had me walk almost two miles home after a sleepless night.

My expectations were torn apart. Quickly, too.

Big Hero 6 tells a story set in some semi-futuristic world where high technology is readily available, people hold underground (and illegal?) robot battles, and the town featured in the movie is called San Fransokyo. We begin where one of those robotic gladiator matches is taking place. Hiro, an undersized kid, steps in and tries to fumble his way through a match... And after five minutes everything goes to hell.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Under the Skin Review: Accents & Plots Indecipherable

"Taxicab Confessions Goes to Scotland, Turns into Species by way of Upstream Color"

That was the impression that I got about 15 minutes into this movie. What's amazing is that Under the Skin is very multi-faceted, despite being rather opaque.

We open with a deeply-unnerving score - a shrill screeching noise of rapidly-played violins that raises tension effortlessly. And the first scene proceeds without words: a guy on a motorcycle stops somewhere, walks away from the camera toward a beach, then comes back with a woman slung over one shoulder. The biker puts the woman into a van, and next we see her on the floor of a creepy, 2001-style all-white room. The silent, immobile woman is played by Scarlett Johansson.

Then another Scarlett Johansson comes into the frame, standing over the one on the floor. This doppleganger removes all the clothes from the prone body before slipping them onto her own form. When the last bit of clothing is gone, we see the victim leak a single tear out of one eye.

From there, Dopple-Scarlett travels the roads of Scotland in the van. She slows down and pulls over every time she sees a man by himself. She asks for directions. She offers to give the men a lift. And, after some banter, she invites them back to her home. Although I think I know what's going on, it won't be clear to every viewer. What is clear is that the events in the film are unsettling and horrifying.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

QftWo 12/22-12/28 - Imposters #78: Interstellar

So, between October and early December, I kept running past posters for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. By now, you should have read my review of the movie, as well as the follow-up entry about flaws in the film. And whether or not you loved the film, I think we'll agree that this poster on the left is neat.

Despite the four main roles listed at the top, McConaughey's spacesuit with the Arctic-style background fills up the frame and makes for a compelling image. Nolan's name is left off (how humble!) of the bottom, but his pedigree is listed in bold (Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception) to draw people in. Then, the different formats are noted with the release date below everything. Above all that text, you get the nifty tagline, "The end of Earth will not the end of us." I think the all-caps makes the line sound appropriately urgent.

What was even more interesting was spotting the next poster. Sorry for the reflections in some of these, but it was impossible to avoid - and sometimes I had to shoot in the street, when a red light stopped traffic.

Friday, December 26, 2014

World War Z Mini-Review

"Then the origin could have come from anywhere." -Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt)
This incredibly slipshod line sort of encapsulates the movie, right there. Instead of saying that the origin "could be anywhere," or "the virus could have originated anywhere," we get a bit of dialogue that shows a... very poor command of language and grammar.

Then again, we're talking about a zombie movie that's so extreme (cue "edgy" guitar riff) that (a) the zombies are faster and more agile than living people are, (b) we witness total "super-destruction" of the type that would appeal to teens who only listen to metal/punk, yet includes (c) a shocking lack of blood for a... "horror" film? I wasn't gonna write this mini-review, save my noticing it's still on Netflix - I'm amazed anyone even cares...

Max Brooks' WWZ novel is supposed to be really cool (he's the son of Mel!), so it's a shame to get a watered-down action movie instead. And while the novel creates a global picture of many incredible sieges and struggles for survival among large groups of characters... We're stuck with Gerry Lane, a retired Jack Bauer-type, running about, trying to save the world (almost) single-handedly.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

OOPS, a Schedule Update

Long story short, I never stated what the schedule and plan for the site would be. It's a big oversight, since I announced my retirement from blogging, then said I just had a few movies to cover because I was obligated to.

Well, there is no schedule. The reasons I stated for stopping - mainly lack of time, being busy - still stand. Also, I revealed that I'm helping to care for an extremely sick relative, and that makes my free time even more precious.

But there is something like a plan. I have been seeing a lot of this year's movies over the last while, and I want to cover those. So, coming up are Under the Skin, Big Hero 6, and maybe Guardians of the Galaxy (it was a gift, yet I might not watch it soon).

I also will try to see and review: Whiplash, Selma, The Immigrant, Inherent Vice, Two Days One Night, and Blue Ruin. A lot of my recent viewing includes the "big" movies of the year, and I think a nice way of closing out the blog would be to take a look at all those. In 5 and 1/2 years, I've never tried that...

There are some big movies that I won't get to look at, though. I have no interest in what Lars von Trier has to say about sex so Nymphomaniac (both one and two) is out. I got Grand Budapest Hotel as an Xmas gift, but I may not watch it soon, and I might take forever to review it. I don't know that I'll find the time for Boyhood, Gone Girl, and Birdman, but I may cover some 2013 pictures like Only Lovers Left Alive, Twelve Years A Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street...

It'll be fun, right?

I won't add much of any other entry types. There will be one or two fan-made gems, my promised look at Interstellar posters, my year-end wrapup, and my thoughts on the films above. I may add some notes about the TV shows I've seen this year, and a Bill Murray post. I may also continue my annual holiday reviews, with the appropriately inappropriate Christmas film, Reindeer Games.

Anyway, I hope you all are enjoying the holiday. I'll try to update this site's about page with this info. There's more to say, but I must be off!

Movie Dance Party

We have dancing or live music in my house roughly once a week. It's... it's just great, and I say that as a guy that can make up at least one decent song each week. I've been unlucky enough to have had many rough times, but the adversity teaches you (I hope) to respond to new crises in a good way. Staying calm is important, keeping perspective is important, and finding happiness wherever you can is the icing on the cake. As I described earlier in the month, these really have been rough times.

And a house full of music really helps on that front. The other day, I couldn't help but introduce my flat-mates to some fan-made gems that are generally dance songs. Those of you who've come here since 2012 should recognize something that starts out hard then becomes more mellow, like "Say What Again" by Pogo:

This next work of art, however, is actually holiday-appropriate. It's the audio-only version, so you won't see the film moments that help make the song so fun, but this should be very familiar to those who've followed me for a while:

That vid is my favorite thing of ever. I love everything about this video and song - including the reminder that the world was so much cooler with Phil Hartman in it. I felt like this about it even before I learned that the song's title is "Jungle All the Way." F--K YES.

It's genius, but what else can you expect from a guy who made this video on the Scottish referendum:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Babadook Review - Fine, Suspenseful, Women-Centric

The Babadook is a simple film that builds suspense and tension with ease. It's hard... While I don't want to spoil the story, but I also want to encourage you to see it.  In an effort to achieve both at the same time, I'm going to review the movie this way:

In September, one of my roommates, a film student and horror fan, made a point of telling me that the movie was great, used highly-effective suspense to generate most of its scares. And damned if she wasn't dead right on that score. The Babadook is very scary, but it doesn't use gore to achieve that goal. It grounds the growing sense of dread and fear in the characters and the situations around them.

When I started reading the critical response in November what stood out was how uniformly glowing the reviews were. And I swear that skimming through them didn't clue me in to what really made my jaw drop: researching for this review last week, I learned the film is by Jennifer Kent, a first-time writer-director.

Genuinely good horror films are a bit rare these days to begin with. Great debut entries aren't common in any genre, much less horror. But a foreign debut indie horror film written and directed by a woman? Rock the f--k on. Given my longtime support of indie film, horror, and women in the industry, I was bound to see this - and to tell everyone to see it, too.

Another point in this movie's favor: the story centers on a woman. And while it's not rare for the horror genre to feature a female lead, women in their early 40's are generally not represented enough in movies - even better, she's a single mother. I've seen a lot of articles over the last two years about women being underrepresented, in front of the camera and behind the scenes, so I'm thrilled to promote an excellent film that features both.

So what's the story? Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widow with a hyperactive 4-5 year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Woken from a nightmare about her husband's death, Amelia carefully shows her son that there are, in fact, no monsters in any part of the house. Yet, from the beginning, we see that this loving home has a lot of underlying tension - when Sam leans in for a very tight hug, his mother stops him as if she feels offended, or threatened.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

QftWo 12/15-12/21: Imposters #77 - The Interview

This poster for The Interview really is wonderful. The hyperbolic nature of the Asian style is different and eye-catching. It reveals very little directly - note the untranslated Korean words at the bottom - but the bombs and such do give an idea of what you're in store for.

But who cares if you can't understand it? The graphic has a great use of color, with the white and title text breaking up the top and bottom of the image. The font for the film title is pretty neat, too, and I like the Korean translated below the stars' names.

I have to appreciate how creative and distinct this poster is - anyone would look twice (at least) at this work...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Netflix's Great Nod to Arrested Development

I am, at times, rather sentimental. And the holidays, as well as the end of the year, always have a big impact on me. I genuinely believe in cleaning house, in every way, before the New Year. You say anything you have to say this year that you don't even want to think about next year... you clean and inventory everything you own ... and you write the blog posts that you'll regret not writing later... So:

November 29, 2014 was a nice day. You don't know why? Well, I was screwing around on Netflix for an hour, and soon after I logged in and scrolled down, I saw this:

So, first thing off, I'm half-ignoring the screen until I notice the title of this row. I nearly zoomed past it. Then, I start laughing hard because I see the second title and say, "The Vanishing of the BEADS?!?!?"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dr. Clooney rescues my mood, but is he Indian?

Well, my family's embargo on the news is over: one of my immediate relatives has one of the worst forms of cancer. The aftermath of it all (my new phrase of 2014 is "receiving catastrophic care," yaaay) is horrible, but it's equally daunting to manage the daily grind of life - work, chores, friends, future plans - while trying to maintain oneself through it all.

It's less scary, in a way, because you join in the familial effort to "steer into the skid." But being a grown-up means not only accepting bad news and helping out instead of feeling self-pity, it means adding this new burden to all that you had going on before. It means not snapping at annoying co-workers, or being harsh with a roommate when they screw up. It means showing up to a party or a date in good spirits. It means not taking your personal pain and drama out on others, because that only makes things worse - and represents a failure to act like a proper adult.

And, fortunately, it's not too hard to maintain my perspective, because I've grown up in terrible neighborhoods, because of attempted muggings and beatdowns, because of managing the family medical business at 17 years old under great pressure - with a loaded gun under my desk. Big problems shouldn't overwhelm a proper adult - and, if you're like me, it means that you try to let hard times bring out what's truly best in yourself... Even if at the end of the day you find yourself having a drink or two to help decompress.

It gets hard, though, as the initial shock at the news fades into months of sleeping in spare hospital beds and scheduling visits. But, in times of crisis, I find it helps to turn to a doctor - and not just the ones I am related to.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Interstellar Problems and Thoughts

Christopher Nolan makes some fine films. Really, I didn't like The Prestige much at all, and yet it was a well-made, inventive, and original movie. And yet I've repeatedly had to write follow-up articles about the flaws in his pictures. Inception needed one Double Dip entry, as well as two Question entries to discuss thoughts about and common issues with that dream-heist story. The Dark Knight Rises required similarly protracted consideration. All of these ambitious narratives are packed with issues, both small and large - and if you click on my "Christopher Nolan" tag at the right side of the page (or at the end of this post - oh, f--- it), you can see me wrestling with that fact.

Sadly, no one sings "A Whole New World" like in Aladdin.

But only an unrealistic, childish fool expects perfection from others - especially in the field of art, where one may not always understand what a director is doing, or where one's complaints may have more to do with personal preferences or baggage than actual "objective" and "valid" criticism/critique. Interstellar is full of at least as many problems as tDKR, so the following list spells out those problems, as well as my thoughts on them. Let's get started, with one SPOILER WARNING for anyone who hasn't seen the movie.

First, the emotional miscues:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Interstellar - Nolan's Field of Dreams

On a rainy December night, I left work early with some of my favorite people on the planet to see Interstellar on the second-biggest IMAX screen in the world (I hope frogs eat your crops, Australia!). I had an exceptional time - as did my companions... Yet this movie makes you say "uh, so..." or "but wait" quite often. This is clearly a Nolan directorial trait, as I felt that way about his last several pictures.

What's the story? Well, you'll be amazed by how natural the early exposition seems, as the movie so neatly conveys that: in the not-too-distant future, Earth has been suffering extreme crop blight for a while. The whole planet's turning into the Dust Bowl of the early 20th century, and can barely feed itself. Mankind has abandoned its ambitions (like war (sigh) and scientific progress), since scientists are not needed as much as farmers are. The farmer we focus on is Matthew McConaughey's Coop, a former astronaut-in-training.

Coop is a single father trying to ensure a good life for his teenage son and his 10 year-old daughter. But a series of inexplicable events starts to disturb life on their farm. Coop's daughter, Murphy, informs him that there's a ghost in her bedroom, and everything for this family is turned upside down when he sees evidence of it for himself. The search for answers reveals not only some hope for the future, but some of the world's greatest secrets.

The amazing thing for me was realizing how much this movie is like Field of Dreams. That 1989 pic was also located in the Midwest, and centered itself around familial relationships and faith - in people, in the impossible, in struggling on despite great difficulty.

While no one would likely categorize FoD as a sci-fi film, it too involved secret messages from ghosts, time travel and causality, and incomprehensible beings who turn natural law on its head for benevolent purposes. Both movies are intelligent, yet simultaneously display an incredible amount of heart. And both movies are packed wall-to-wall with corn.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

December Defined

5 posts were scheduled already for this month (including my overall review of 2014), but now we'll add reviews of the fine Aussie horror pic, Babadook - and Interstellar, which I found time for.

In addition, I cancelled one Reviewing with Others entry (lack of time), but will still do the one I couldn't get to last month.

Also, I got to view some more 2014 releases, and may add reviews of those, too. It's not entirely clear where I'll find time for that, but it's an idea that's percolating due to changed circumstances.

Given that Babadook is an indie film with a great central female character, I really want to promote it. And, thus, Snowpiercer won't be my last review here, so now it's starting to seem appropriate to add a few more films onto the queue...