Some Frightening Dingbat
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), Nagisa Oshima. Feb 10, 9pm. View count: One.
Laitakaupungin valot (AKA Lights in the Dusk, 2006), Aki Kaurismäki. Feb 11, 4pm. View count: One.
The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Mark Dindal. Feb 26, 3pm. View count: One.

Well, okay, this is a weird progression, from bleak awfulness to glib doofiness, but let's do it.

Merry Xmas was a rough one. Somehow I'd never seen this, despite it starring not only David Bowie but Beat Takeshi and Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of my favorite musicians ever since I learned about YMO in college. So I finally rectified the situation, finding that, indeed, it's not a fun movie. It's about a POW camp during WWII, and nearly everyone ends up broken, or dead, or about to be dead. The soundtrack is rather wonderful (I do love Sakamoto); it does a fantastic job of mirroring the grinding awfulness of POW life, along with small strains of defiance or prettiness.
Much is made of the mutual incomprehensibility of the Japanese and the British. A significant amount of time is expended in each trying to make the other understand.

Lights in the Dusk is, from what I understand, typical of Kaurismäki's work, in that it's about The Little Guy and how he gets screwed in daily life. It follows a security guard through his screwing-over by a rich cabal who want to pin a jewelry heist on him. I mostly enjoyed this due to its finnish quotidian details, as the plot was sort of uninterestingly predictable and, in one spot in particular, almost insulting. The interiors were nice, though.

The Emperor's New Groove is another one of those 'dude is selfish and mean and then, through the magic of friendship, learns the error of his ways and becomes Good' things that Disney loves a lot. I was surprised by the way every lead voice actor was readily recognizable, and I'm definitely sad that Eartha Kitt can't be in more movies. (I'm also sad that she didn't really get to turn on the evil, vocally, in the way that we all know that she can. She's more of a Malificent than she is one of these flashes-in-the-pan.) John Goodman also didn't really fit the visual role he was given -- his voice has too much dignity and gravitas. Patrick Warburton, was, however, the right choice, as ever. And David Spade was fine. Visually the whole thing wasn't anything monstrously spectacular, but it was pretty enough (I feel as if not enough research was done into Mayan visual motifs, though). It did, however, nag at me that everyone was so white. Very strange. At least the story seemed to be aware of itself, which is worth something.
I can't shake the feeling that this entire movie's philosophy/zeitgeist reflection can be summed up by these few seconds of video.
 
 
 
Some Frightening Dingbat
29 January 2012 @ 12:59 pm
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Tomas Alfredson. Jan 28, 7pm. View count: One.

Oh man am I pleased I got to see this on the big screen. I'd had some people tell me that they didn't understand it, and that it didn't work for them, but I did not have that experience. I'm sure there are some things I missed, but it mattered not at all, because of the character-centric tone of the movie. The characters had behavior that showed what they wanted -- and so I didn't need to know what the intricate machinations were doing at all times, because all of the characters had direction. If that makes sense. (Honestly even having said that, I didn't feel completely at sea or anything -- I'd wager that a lot of the backstory/intricacies were elided from this two-hour version of the story, and perhaps the remnant feeling of there being a lot of delicate navigation of the spy landscape remained without the actual events to back this up. This could have contributed to people's feelings of not knowing what was going on.)

Stylistically, this one's a beaut. It recalls my favorite slow-burn, distancing directors (Lars von Trier, Wim Wenders in a way, Coppola (specifically for The Conversation, which TTSS positively stunk of. This is the right choice). It also has a distinct european flavor to it, which makes sense given the director, but I'd forgotten this when I was watching, and I still kept thinking "What if von Trier had directed The Conversation in 1974?" (And had also done a good job, which is not always the case with von Trier. (Also: the original novel came out in 1974. Wheels within wheels.)) There's a lot of outside-looking-in, and distancing shots through frame-within-a-frame windows and doorways. Flat, square camera angles, with beautiful natural light sometimes and unpleasant institutional lighting others. The props and set dressing alone deserve a significant amount of praise; the early 1970s stylishness was impeccable, not to mention the effort that must have been expended in tracking down all the antiquated machines and institutional details.

There's little spy glamour in this piece. It's chiefly concerned with middle-aged men and their only subtly dramatic actions. There isn't a lot of hand-holding of the audience content-wise, either. Even Gary Oldman's acting is barely there, but still excellent (recalling Gene Hackman in The Conversation, for sure). I approve of all of these things.

Weirdly, even though the tone was good and the details seemed believable, it was obvious that this film is not from a british perspective. This adds a secondary amount of distance from the events -- a foreignness. I attribute a fair bit of the atmosphere to this thematically appropriate aspect; an underlying sense of not belonging is only right for a story immersed in (but barely focused on in its own right) spy culture. I'm going to read the book on which this movie was based, but I'm actually a little worried that it won't hold up without these visual/atmospheric layers.
 
 
 
Some Frightening Dingbat
The Secret of Kells (2009), Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey. Jan 19, 9pm. View count: One.
Conan the Barbarian (1982), John Milius. Jan 20, 9pm. View count: One and a half.
Thieves' Highway (1949), Jules Dassin. Jan 27, 7:30pm. View count: One.
The Breaking Point (1950), Michael Curtiz. Jan 27, 9:30pm. View count: One.

The Secret of Kells I quite enjoyed. It was very prettily done, and interestingly paced. It definitely rejected some of the Disney Movie Pattern that we've come to expect is necessary when it comes to kids' movies, which was welcome to me, at any rate. The characters were fun and not very cliched, and they avoided a lot of stereotypes. Recommended.

Conan on the other hand was not great. I don't think I'd seen it all the way through previously, but it was sort of hard to take most of it seriously. It didn't help that a guy was present at the viewing who kept trying to convince everyone of the movie's merits. This made me like it less in general. There were a few things I respect about it: the love interest looked like a regular person, as oppposed to a cartoon, and could fight; Max von Sydow; the camel punch was sort of funny; sorta liked all the goofy snakes. Maybe I should see this again sometime with less of a grudge against it.

Thieves' Highway (via Noir City) was a pretty good hard-luck noir with some real dark moments. The female lead was uniquely great, although I think they tried to (hilariously) pawn her off as 'french' for whatever reason. I'm definitely a sucker for a story about a guy trying to take care of his parents, or trying to correct an injustice done to them, and this film made me a sucker. It was pretty good.

The Breaking Point wasn't as deft or compassionate, really, but it was fine enough. The troublemaking lady of the picture was in The Day the Earth Stood Still (yay!) and The Fountainhead (boo), interestingly. The coolest moments in this one came from the various children in the story, who'd comment on the action in amusing and apt ways. And one of them was involved in a not-quite-underplayed moment at the end which came pretty close to choking me up at its emotional cruelty. The film had some good moments.
 
 
 
Some Frightening Dingbat
12 January 2012 @ 06:24 am
Woman of the Year (1942), George Stevens. Jan 7, 7pm. View count: One.

This one's sort of a doozy. It comes worryingly close to looking as if the movie's trying to paint Katharine Hepburn in the light of a successful lady who needs to stop being successful because she is married now. Even as it actually turns out, there're undertones of that idea, and obvious ones, too. The allegations that the movie is showing that one has to put in work to make any endeavor happen are sort of founded, but then there're also lines wherein Katharine Hepburn is explicitly called 'not a woman,' seemingly in reaction to actions of hers that are not concerned with the home. The money here is not entirely where the mouth is. The man half of the couple is often petulant and not inclined to talk about what his problems are. There's a couple of clever decisions made, such as not translating or subtitling foreign languages spoken (and Hepburn acquits herself pretty well in german and greek, as far as I could tell), Katharine Hepburn came off pretty believable as a really successful lady, even to the point that her core of wanting to be in a 1950s relationship seemed to ring a little false.
All in all, um, I don't know. I don't really feel like the merits were enough to make me think of it in an overall positive light. The writing didn't really strike me as being massively impressive, and the characters were cop-outs.
 
 
 
Some Frightening Dingbat
04 January 2012 @ 06:25 am
"White Christmas" (1954), Michael Curtiz. Jan 2, 8pm. View count: One.

Fluffy, but reasonably well-handled. A couple of old army buddies who have some kind of Danny Kaye/Bing Crosby singing/dancing theater career going meet up with a "sister act" whose one-song repertoire is about them being sisters. One of them is Rosemary Clooney, and the other is a very breakable-looking lady who does the dancing for the act. They all go to Vermont so that they can sing the word "snow" a lot, and do a Let's Put On a Show show which has some purpose that I can't remember. It was cheery and harmless, and really all the main characters are good at their jobs. Pros, all of 'em.

Hey, guys! I'm, um, having a blog here! I guess! Mirrored for now, but... maybe not forever? I don't know.
 
 
 
Some Frightening Dingbat
27 December 2010 @ 09:37 pm
The Fall (2006), Tarsem Singh. Dec 14, 11pm. View count: One.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Robert Wise. Dec 15, 3pm. View count: Two?
The Last Unicorn (1982), Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin. Dec 18, 8pm. View count: Probably around ten?
Tron (1982), Steven Lisberger. Dec 19, 11am. View count: Fiveish?
Tron Legacy (2010), Joseph Kosinski. Dec 19, 4pm. View count: One.
All That Jazz (1979), Bob Fosse. Dec 22, 8:30pm. View count: One.

The Fall I really liked, despite the vague memories of its halfassed trailer that I seem to have rattling around in my head. The heart of this movie is the child protagonist, who really knocked her part out of the park. She's easily the most believable little kid I've seen in a movie in recent memory. Brilliant.
Apparently her parts were shot sequentially, so that her slightly appreciable growth and improving accent (English was not her first language) would be consistent and sensical.
The rest of the movie is rather charming, too; a sort of Baron Munchausen story that plays out in parallel to real life. I found it a little simpler than Baron Munchausen (one of my favorite movies, still) itself, but it certainly is comparable.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a solid 50s fear-of-the-unknown piece, which I remembered not at all from seeing it on television as a kid. As far as I can tell, 'klaatu barada nikto' seems to mean "go get Klaatu" or "Klaatu's dead" or some such thing. (wiki link for the pedantic!) I'm disappointed in a lot of the sci-fi references to this phrase, because they seem to all focus on the "don't destroy earth" part when "Klaatu" is right there up front. It probably does have to have something to do with him, you guys.
Anyway, it's a pleasant counterpoint to the usual Invaders-From-Mars-style alien menace, (Did I forget to write up Invaders From Mars? Dang it.) especially given the child-who-gets-it theme that both have in common.
This is a MAN IS NOT YET READY film, but it goes a step further by having the superior civilization threaten to pulverize earth if they get too gung ho about expansion (such that they threaten other civilizations). Respect.

The Last Unicorn is an enjoyable old childhood favorite. I noted this time how star-studded the cast is (Rene Auberjonois! Angela Lansbury! Christopher Lee!), and they do a fine job with the parts they're given. Some of the songs are... hmm, not the best, but, well, we're all products of our times. The backgrounds are uniformly gorgeous, and the story is just enough out of reach of a normal Rankin-Bass production that you get a kind of hinted-at transcendence. "Come on, old man. I'll write you a reference."

Tron I rewatched in preparation for the new one, and I generally found it to hold up, but I also watched it initially as a child, thus imprinting it on my psyche a bit (although I remember having a really hard time telling in-computerworld Bruce Boxleitner and Jeff Bridges apart when I was a kid. Face recognition peaks at 40!). I like the mattes, and the early 3D, and the hilarious fake videogames, and also I really like the "a program is a small facsimile/piece of yourself" concept. I've always found this idea useful for providing amusing mental imagery when talking to programmers, especially those who refer to their code in the first person.
I personally feel as if there's a reason that Tron's a classic, with its 80s-proportioned plot, interesting visual style, and amusing acting. I generally find it to have a richness to it that we don't always get nowadays, and that certainly wasn't present in the new sequel.

Tron Legacy, speaking of which, was mostly kinda lame. It looked like it had the potential to do something fun, but I don't think it ever really did. It also made the grave error of carving its prow into the grotesque CG visage of young Jeff Bridges, which was a significant debit to the respectability of this movie. The actual plot was scattered and overreaching, yet sort of pointillistic in its lack of information. (I said "What?" to the screen several times, as I recall.) The protagonist was so bland and featureless that they may as well have used a sock puppet (MAD magazine will use the joke that the CG character is a more believable person, probably. If they don't, they should). They had Bruce Boxleitner and they barely used him.
It's got some fun in it, and Daft Punk probably raised the movie's bar significantly, but it's not a good movie. It's certainly missing some major segments that the original actually did have.

All That Jazz is actually pretty impressive. I'd had no idea. Apparently based on Bob Fosse's actual life (which is kind of awful), it's the best juxtaposition of Show Biz and Horrible Humanity I've seen since uh, Cabaret (also Bob Fosse. The man knows his way around a seedy underbelly). There're some really beautiful touches with sound and editing, too, that contribute to making it a pretty hard-hitting piece. Roy Scheider isn't much of a singer, but he pulls off the rest of the part well, understatedly, in a way. I started out half watching, assuming that the movie didn't require close attention, but I gradually watched more and more closely until by the 1/3 mark I was watching properly (The long takes and sequences throughout make me feel that I didn't do the beginning a huge injustice by doing this. Maybe just a small injustice). Regardless, it has merit, and Bob Fosse, I now know, was a bit of a horrible man. And, you know, a damn fine director.

Okay! Up to date! Now I can watch more movies!
 
 
 
Some Frightening Dingbat
26 December 2010 @ 11:58 am
The Magician (1958), Ingmar Bergman. Nov 27, 6pm. View count: One.
Labyrinth (1986), Jim Henson. Dec 8, 8pm. View count: Eightish?
The Princess Bride (1987), Rob Reiner. Dec 8, 11pm. View count: Also eightish? I should probably just say "a bunch."
High Fidelity (2000), Stephen Frears. Dec 12, 1pm. View count: One.

The Magician is a little light for Bergman, really. It's about a travelling troupe of performers, who have magic as a theme, and their arrival at and departure from a little town. Decidedly worth watching, and surprising in several ways; it's quite difficult to be sure of how much in the way of supernatural activity is actually occurring until the plot has progressed to the end. All the old favorite Bergman touches are generally present, adding up nicely to a pretty well-rounded story. With depth and complexity, yet still occasionally flip, it's an unusual one. I was quite pleased by it.

Labyrinth is, as it always is, pleasant to watch. A lot of love was put into this movie, and even if it's so gentle as to seem toothless, I still enjoy it. Watching with friends is recommended. Also, the blu-ray makes it apparent that Jareth's grey stretch-pants have sparkles on them.
Also also, this.

Princess Bride is another childhood favorite, which does hold up, I was pleased to note. As advertised, it has everything ("Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison [...]"). And I don't think that Cary Elwes will ever see its like again. I was struck this time by how lame the Princess is as a character, but, eh. What else is new. Most other aspects I've essentially memorized, so it's hard to think about them critically.

High Fidelity I'd never seen, due to an idea that it was a wallowy, disaffected man-child movie. Which is is in a way, but it actually was not unamusing. I got some fun out of it, and even Jack Black can't take that away. (I am not usually very much in favor of Jack Black.) I ended up amusing myself by thinking of the whole story as a typically self-absorbed memory belonging to someone semi-functional like Dr. Venture, in which light it sorta worked. The whole thing had such a strong perspective that it encouraged this, I think. The specific viewpoint may have been the most successful thing about it.
 
 
 
Some Frightening Dingbat
23 December 2010 @ 08:05 am
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), Terry Gilliam. Nov 7, 8pm. View count: One.
Paper Moon (1973), Peter Bogdanovich. Nov 8, 8pm. View count: One.
Futureworld (1976), Richard T. Heffron. Nov 10, 10pm. View count: One.
RoboCop (1987), Paul Verhoeven. Nov 14, 8pm. View count: Many.
The 400 Blows (1959), Francois Truffaut. Nov 16, 8pm. View count: Two.
Point Break (1991), Kathryn Bigelow. Nov 24, 5pm. View count: One.
Watchmen (2009), Zack Snyder. Nov 25, 6pm. View count: One.
Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966 - MST3K version), Harold P. Warren. Nov 26, 6pm. View count: Four?


Imaginarium I found to be fun and attractive, surprising no one. It did have a sense of disjointedness, and not really because of the replacement of Heath Ledger (that mostly worked okay, I thought, although my thoughts when this happened were more along the lines of 'does he look different? I can't tell' than 'look, it's Johnny Depp!' There were almost always makeup and a mask involved, so it was harder than it could have been). Probably would have benefited from some judicious editing, but I couldn't promise that reshoots wouldn't've been necessary, so...

Paper Moon I'd only ever read the book, so this was nice to see. 70s does 20s, which is unusual of itself, I think. The lead actress did a really impressive job with a demanding part, and there was even a small part for Madeline Kahn!

Futureworld: Pretty terrible. It's been too long since I saw this to remember its redeeming qualities.

RoboCop is always better on the big screen.

The 400 Blows we watched on blu-ray, to try out this new functionality, and it was accordingly quite beautiful. I learned this time around that every damn line in this movie was overdubbed by the actors (no sync sound -- too expensive), which is a heroic feat. It's a brilliant looping job; you'd never, ever know if you weren't told. Impeccable.

Point Break I think I was not quite in the right mood for, but I still thought it had its good points. The chase in the middle was legitimately good, and I'm always up for watching Buseys behaving oddly. Also, Kathryn Bigelow? The lady who directed Hurt Locker? Hmmm.

Watchmen I was rather pleased with. I think the decision to make Dr. Manhattan entirely CG was a bad and distracting one, although it did not ruin the movie for me. The only other major issue I had was the overbearing, intrusive soundtrack, with its Big Hits of the Past 30 Years!! Too on the nose, too music-video-envy. As a whole, though, the little touches were brilliant, and the tone was spot on. The casting was very good, and, really, Rorschach made the whole thing worthwhile. I hope that guy is getting a lot of work, because he's got chops.

Manos is terrible/amusing as always.
 
 
 
Some Frightening Dingbat
21 December 2010 @ 07:18 pm
House (AKA Hausu, 1977), Nobuhiko Obayashi. Oct 31, 9pm. View count: Two.
Straight to Hell (Returns) (1987), Alex Cox. Nov 1, 7:15pm. View count: Five?
Days of Heaven (1978), Terrence Malick. Nov 4, 7pm. View count: One.
Mad Monster Party? (1967), Jules Bass. Nov 6, 5pm. View count: One.
El Topo (1970), Alejandro Jodorowsky. Nov 6, 9pm. View count: One.

House I have a lot of love for. It's a weird, weird movie, with a few horror aspects that don't really make it into a horror movie. It is, however, filled with amusing, self-aware effects and mattes, lovable acting, and stuff you'd never have thought would be a good thing to include in a movie. Schoolkids talking over someone's retelling of a memory, as if it were a film, and they could see it? A character whose scarf is always blowing around, for seemingly no reason? A skeleton who, even in the background, is really into whatever's happening? All these and more, friends. It starts slowly and never truly gets fast, but if you can take the low rate of occurrences as a natural consequence of appreciating the secondary visual and conceptual aspects, then maybe you will like it.

Straight to Hell is an old favorite of mine. It's not as polished as Repo Man, and its meandering plot is perhaps the most obvious symptom of that, but it has so many good components. Not the least of which is the wonderful casting -- Jim Jarmusch, Courtney Love, Elvis Costello -- heck, Joe Strummer is a lead, and does a damn fine job. Alex Cox bears a lot of knowledge and love for the western genre; he's even written a book, so you know he's on the level.

Days of Heaven was recommended us by a coworker. My favorite part, easily, is the running monologue from the little sister, Linda. JP characterized it as Babycakes-like, and it is, after a fashion, but it's missing Babycakes' whimsy? If Babycakes were a twelve-year-old girl who had grown up on various factory floors, being exposed to various weird stripes of biblical input, then maybe that would be Linda. A few quotes here.

Mad Monster Party is pretty terrible. Maybe if I'd seen it as a child I would see fewer of its flaws, but as of now it does seem to be mostly flaws. Phyllis Diller, for once, did not help. The jokes are poor, the songs are excruciating... it's all very sad.

El Topo is the sort of thing that, if I were ever to have patience for it, it would have been in college. However, I can't help but think that even then I would have rejected it. I was not in the correct mood to appreciate much of it, and therefore did not pay attention.
 
 
 
Some Frightening Dingbat
26 October 2010 @ 08:43 pm
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), Edgar Wright. Aug 27, 9:40pm. View count: One.
Hausu (AKA House, 1977), Nobuhiko Obayashi. Sep 3, 9:15pm. View count: One.
Machete (2010), Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez. Sep 5, 2:45pm. View count: One.
Quai des Orfèvres (1947), Henri-Georges Clouzot. Sep 11, 12pm. View count: One.
Death Wish 3 (1985), Michael Winner. Oct 3, 5pm. View count: One.
The Limits of Control (2009), Jim Jarmusch. Oct 17, 4pm. View count: One.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Robert Altman. Oct 18, 8pm. View count: One.
Metropolis (Complete) (1927), Fritz Lang. Oct 19, 7:30pm. View count: One for this cut.
Excalibur (1981), John Boorman. Oct 20, 10pm. View count: One.
Logan's Run (1976), Michael Anderson. Oct 21, 7:30pm. View count: Six?
Les yeux sans visage (AKA Eyes Without a Face, 1960), Georges Franju. Oct 22, 8pm. View count: One.

MOVIES. Jesus.