Monday, March 3, 2014

Review: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

I've wanted to see the 2002 Sam Rockwell vehicle Confessions of a Dangerous Mind since about the time it came out, but never got around to it until now. If I were going to do a tweet-review of this, it would be "Way darker than I expected; don't watch it if you're in a misanthropic mood."

Maybe part of the reason I put off this movie was because I knew basically nothing about protagonist Chuck Barris, and very little about The Gong Show, which he created and hosted. Fortunately, the script is careful enough to remain accessible to those of us with limited background knowledge of the world of '60s-'70s game shows.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: Woyzeck

Meet Franz Woyzeck.

You think YOU've got it bad? Try being Woyzeck for a day. He's a grunt in an indeterminate mid-1800s European army—I assume German, but he could be German-French in the same sense that most movie Romans are British-Roman. He's being cuckolded by his young wife (who looks like Jewel Staite with a crushed spirit) and the high-school-quarterback-like drum major. He's also a human guinea pig for an ambitious scientist who's been feeding him nothing but peas, and who rewards him with much-needed cash every time he behaves crazily.

Naturally, therefore, Woyzeck's descending into insanity, and just as naturally, there's no going back…since this is a Werner Herzog film.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: Gator King

Gator King is a Rhino direct-to-video release that, of the nearly 90 movies I've reviewed for this blog (which includes scores of titles I knew would be terrible going in), is without a doubt the dullest.

Imagine Time Chasers if its plot entailed not time travel but alligator smuggling, if its cast had far less investment in what they were doing, if the chase scenes were even more cheap and stupid, and if it induced Z-grade celebrity actors to somehow embarrass themselves—in this case, Michael Berryman (Captain Rixx from the TNG episode "Conspiracy"), Antonio Fargas (TV's Huggy Bear), and Joe Estevez, who of course is reason I watched this.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review: The Lego Movie

One cannot fully evaluate the merits of The Lego Movie—a movie as fun for both kids and adults as the titular brick toys themselves—without taking into consideration the film to which it owes its existence, Toy Story. No studio on the planet would have greenlit this wacky, hyperactive, often-subversive, and really pretty weird movie had Toy Story not demonstrated to the hyperconservative Hollywood system that movies with all-toy casts can be successful. (Now we need a similar revelation for female-character-heavy casts, which The Lego Movie itself proves the absence of).

The success of The Lego Movie—following as it does the Toy Story franchise and the similar Wreck-It Ralph—introduces the distressing possibility that all the best kid's movies from now on will revolve only around toys. Whether that grim harbinger of things to come proves accurate or not, at the very least we'll have a curious little "golden age" of quirky kid fare.

I suppose it would not be the best use of my time in this review to tell you that "Everything Is Awesome!!!" about this movie; you likely already know that most of it is. Therefore, I will focus on expectation-management: what are the places where The Lego Movie falls a little short, so that those of you who haven't seen it don't get your hopes up?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: Road House

Ah, Road House. I'd avoided experiencing this bleak bit of cinema history until recently, more or less on purpose. As is so often the case, the factor that made me finally get around to it was its impending departure from Netflix Instant. (It's gone now, so don't bother looking for it. There's a reason I waited to post this review.) The only reason I didn't just let it expire was because people talk about this movie a lot, and the strange things I'd heard…well, I just sort of wanted to understand.

My goal in this review is, as much as possible, to make you understand so you don't have to see it. Because whatever else can be said of this movie, it has a certain uniqueness, and unfortunately that can be attractive sometimes.

Be assured that Road House is in fact repellent from start to finish.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review: Arctic Blast

As this week's incident in Atlanta demonstrates, a region unaccustomed to severe winter conditions is much more likely to experience disaster-scale problems than more northerly regions, where everybody's used to it. Thus, it's at least partly forgivable when mistakes are made under unexpectedly wintry conditions in the former case.

What's not so forgivable is when you make a movie about a flash-freezing weather phenomenon and you obviously lack understanding of what being in harsh winter conditions is actually like. I hypothesize the director and/or screenwriter must've been natives of Tasmania—the setting of the cheap disaster movie Arctic Blast, which I only assume was on SyFy—where it doesn't go below zero (Fahrenheit). There's a special kind of sadness in a movie with such scientific pretensions and yet such obvious scientific failures.

Most of the "action" in Arctic Blast takes place in rooms full of computers—which is at least the right feel for a movie like this—but when it's not staring at screens, it gets a lot of mileage out of its main flash-freezing visual effect, which is obviously cheap but not terrible. Yet the antagonist—the titular "arctic blast"—never seems to fall below -120° F for the whole movie. Dangerously cold, yes; infrastructure-challengingly cold, yes; but end-of-the-world cold? Flash-freezing cold? So cold that you can't even see your breath?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: Never Say Never Again

The essence of the famous non-Eon Bond film Never Say Never Again is that, in attempting to justify its existence, it tries to out-Bond the real Bond movies in several respects, and fails resoundingly at each of them. It tries to be sexier, but ends up more juvenile, prurient, and icky. It tries to be funnier, but ends up stupid. It tries to be more action-packed, but ends up jumbled, implausible, and often confusing. It tries to use cooler gadgets, but ends up sad and laughable. (Bond plays a video game in this movie. And I thought it was undignified when he dressed as a clown.) It tries to be more epic in scope, but ends up plodding.

That last one's the real stake through the heart. I'm pretty sure I've never been as bored by any Bond movie, and I saw Quantum of Solaceand the '60s Casino Royale. And that boredom's not just due to this movie being a remake of Thunderball. Yes, much of the story is the same, but most scenes have no direct analog in the original, and some entire plot developments are new. It's all just…so dull. The main reason I didn't give up on this movie at the hour-thirty mark was just in case I'd miss another scene as batshit as the video game. (Also, it was directed by Irvin Kershner—director of The Empire Strikes Back, the best Star Wars film. Didn't help.)

I will answer your franchise-apostasy questions below, so that idle curiosity does not compel you to waste two-plus hours on this.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Rewatching 2001 recently, I was struck by just how slow it is. I mean, you can't not notice it, but this time through it almost felt like it was daring people to finish it (as was, inarguably, Barry Lyndon). I don't think this is, as Nicholas Carr would allege, a symptom of my personal overexposure to the Internet and its having conditioned me to expect lightning-quick gratification. Indeed, I felt less impatient with 2001 than I have during any previous viewing. But the slowness is one of the things that intensely stands out, and newcomers to this legendary film should account for it before idly sitting down to it.

The shot from this rewatch that's haunting me is the immediate start of "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite." Preceded by a creepy but not overly dramatic mission recording from Dr. Floyd, this segment of the film opens on a monolith flying around Jupiter space, accompanied by an amped-up reprise of the "Love Theme from the Monolith" (you know, the one that goes "eeeeeeeeee eeeeeee eeEEE EEEeeee eeeeee eeeEEee"). The shot tilts downward and we see the Discovery, dwarfed by the Jovian worlds, and (because it's Kubrick) the shot lingers so long that the viewer's imagination begins to fill in context—an opportunity so few movies afford anymore—and we realize what Bowman must be feeling: isolation to a degree never before experienced by a human. He cannot go home, as far as he is aware; he can't even contact home. Not to mention abject terror at what he sees—remember, he only just learned about the monolith. I mean, Christ, how many movies achieve such a primal, visceral effect? And all this without seeing Bowman's face (because it's Kubrick).

This may be what I enjoy most about Kubrick movies: the space to imagine. That what we imagine should terrify the ever-loving fuck out of us is merely an added bonus.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: Man of Steel

Though I've never read a single frame of Superman in his comic-book form, I know enough about the franchise to perceive significant departures from it when I see them. Man of Steel features several, and while some work and some don't, it departs even more dramatically from what I would consider sensible narrative practice when your studio is endeavoring to start its own Marvel-like compound franchise.

The Avengers assembled (YEP I WENT THERE) its constituent hero team from a scattered group of uneven but generally successful superhero movies connected by rather thin and easily-ignored tendons of in-universality. This strategy obviously worked in terms of getting butts in the seats, but more than that, it worked for each hero-specific film: it freed up each filmmaker to pursue styles and stories independently for each feature, with really very little need to worry about stepping on the compound franchise's toes. This not only gives each feature a freshness that one doesn't get in more limited and repetitive franchises (such as Harry Potter) but also opens up the potential for pretty impressive feats of long-form storytelling. I personally don't feel that the Marvel films have achieved any such feats (though Iron Man 3 was a step in the right direction), but the potential is there, thanks to the Marvel formula.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Now that Western popular cinema has entered the post-Marvel, post-LOTR age—where serialization is not just accepted, but expected, in our blockbusters—it's interesting to look back on an era when such things were still pretty new. The original Star Wars trilogy began the modern version of the trend, and, alongside the Indy trilogy, the Star Trek film franchise reinforced the trend, proving it to be a viable strategy and not a series-specific aberration.

No film in any of those three franchises is quite as "serial" as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, a.k.a. "the whale one." Each Star Wars installment began with a crawl, reminding us of Where We Last Left Our Heroes; the Indy movies had almost as little connection with one another as the Bond movies; and even Star Trek III took the time to show us a clip from the pivotal ending of Star Trek II, and worked in lots of in-narrative review of that film's events.

Contrast this with the comparatively abrupt opening of Star Trek IV. The opening council scene with John Shuck's Klingon ambassador provides some indirect summary of the previous two movies, then Kirk's first captain's log says "We're in the third month of our Vulcan exile," never fully explaining why they're exiled, let alone why the planet Vulcan would be harboring them. Ironic that the most financially successful Trek film (up until 2009) opens in a fashion so impenetrable, almost hostile, to the uninitiated viewer. It's not as though they could have assumed that every audience member saw The Search for Spock. (Indeed, it seems they even tacked on a weird prologue for the foreign markets under the assumption that too few people overseas had seen III.)

Friday, December 13, 2013


(The following actually transpired in my dream last night. Observations and analysis provided in footnote form.)

It's the pilot episode of Wayne Enterprises, a TV semi-reboot of Nolan's Batman franchise featuring a younger and more marketable actor as Bruce Wayne1 and an emphasis on smaller-scale threats to Gotham—some villains, some mere troublemakers, but no supervillains. The gist is, this is what Batman does in between blockbuster-scale threats.

Open on a boardroom, discussing a thorn in the company's side: a take-no-prisoners alternative-media journalist (MADtv's Debra Wilson) who seems bent on portraying Wayne Enterprises in the worst possible light, using flimsy and out-of-context evidence. They call her…"Bane."2

Bruce tells the board (via a flashback) that he's met her, at some clothing store in what he's now convinced was no chance encounter. But he assures the board that she's probably willing to listen to reason, and therefore not a serious threat to the company, and that either way, he'll handle it—ignoring their perplexed reaction.

Cut to Bruce driving his own limo, as incognito as Bruce can be—but the limo's sort of a Batmobile Jr., outfitted with all kinds of high-tech controls in both the driver's compartment and the (currently unoccupied) passenger compartment. Bruce has used his considerable means to identify Bane's car, and is following it at a discreet distance on a freeway. He initiates an infrared scan of her car using a Bond-like outfolding center console…and detects an anomalous heat signature on a rear edge, close to the gas tank. The limo's computer calculates a high probability that it's a bomb.

Bruce is genuinely surprised, and considers two possibilities. One: Miss Bane here is a terrorist and/or industrial saboteur, about to bomb some facility that's part of Wayne Enterprises' interests. Two: Bane's about to be the victim—has some other target of her nosy reporting decided to dispose of her? Either way, Bruce has to intervene.

Then I woke up.

1 - Throughout the dream, I perceived things from Wayne's perspective, initially as the character, then as myself observing this TV show, but in neither case was the actor identified.

2 - On account of some old dude on the board saying "She is the BANE of our existence!", I'd guess. And maybe they don't want to try to pronounce her real name or something.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: American Warships

Those of us who are cursed to occasionally find ourselves in the mood for an Asylum mockbuster could do worse than American Warships, which came out the same time as Battleship and likewise concerns naval warfare with aliens—in this case, centered on the aging USS Iowa. Cheap and dumb by any measure, American Warships nonetheless displays minimal competence in story, pacing, some of the dialogue, and the leads' acting.

The leads in question are Mario Van Peebles in the Adama role (oh yeah, this movie also completely rips off the BSG pilot) and Carl Weathers in the "Trapped Forever in the Situation Room" role. Both actors maintain total seriousness throughout, which feels more forced coming from Van Peebles—but maybe that's just because he spent the whole shoot dreading the line "You're not gonna sink my battleship." Whatever the case, they're both perpetually watchable and they mostly retain their dignity, no matter how hard the rest of the film tries to strip them of it. Though I am still perplexed by Weathers' grizzled-prospector-style profanity.