A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 61 – This is Spinal Tap

This is Spinal Tap – April 30th, 2010

Before I get to the movie, I’m going to review the menu. Seriously. Watch the menu. Or rather, listen to it, because it’s a great bit of extra in-character meta dialogue, with the band talking about the menu and how hard it is to read the name of the movie and discussing the options you have on the screen. For the same reason, watch the movie with the band commentary. They do the whole thing in character and it’s fantastic.

For anyone as yet uninitiated to Spinal Tap, this movie is a mockumentary about a fictitious band that’s morphed through many different styles and, at time of filming, was on a US tour. A disastrous US tour that seems to go wrong at every turn. But it’s also incredibly funny, what with being a parody. This is the movie that gave us great lines like “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” “None more black.” and the whole “These go to eleven,” bit. It’s got more hilarious lines than I can catalog here. And the delivery is half the humor. The entire cast is committed to their characters, from the band to their manager to all the cameos who come in for a scene or two and then disappear. I mentioned the commentary track already, but it really exemplifies the whole spirit of the movie. The illusion is carried and stretched as far as it will go. It’s fantastic.

But also sad too. Maybe it’s just me, but okay, you know that band, The Guess Who? They sing/sang American Woman and No Sugar. They played at the Barnstable County Fair about twelve years ago. We were there and saw the band on the day’s events and headed over to the bandstand to see them. They sang No Sugar and invited the audience to “sing along” with the chorus. No one sang along. That’s where this movie goes. It’s a fake documentary about a fake band, but it’s so easy to see how close it is. I can’t watch it without thinking of the Guess Who and the county fair and no one singing. And I’ve heard, though I forget where specifically, that real bands watching this movie have commented on how it’s actually sadly true to how things can be.

Thankfully, the humor overshadows the reality for me, so I can watch this movie and laugh more than wince. Which is good, because it’s worth watching and rewatching. Hell, it’s worth listening to as well. The songs aren’t any more ridiculous than most of what’s on the radio anyhow.


April 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

This is Spinal Tap

April 30, 2010

This Is Spinal Tap

I’ve always regretted that I didn’t get a chance to see Spinal Tap in concert. They were touring in 1990 to promote their “Break Like the Wind” album and I just never got my act together enough to go see them. But I’d characterize myself as a fan of the band and their music. I had the so called “black album” when I was in college and listened to it all the time. So I’m of two minds about this movie. On the one hand I totally agree with the band in their commentary track on this DVD that Marty DiBergi, the director of this documentary, almost ridicules the band with his treatment. It’s during the “Rock and Roll Creation” number that they point out that DiBergi doesn’t show any of the many times that Derek’s pod DID open. Clearly this tour was a very difficult time for the band, and yet DiBergi chose to highlight all these moments that went almost comically wrong for them.

On the other hand it was through this movie that I discovered Spinal Tap and their music, so it’s not all bad. For all the bits that go wrong for the band there are still some great performances captured here. Sure I’ll admit that when I first saw the eighteen inch high Stonehenge monument flying in from the rafters I laughed my ass off, but the actual number is pretty cool to listen to. It’s amazing number one hit after number one hit. Big Bottoms. Sex Farm. Hell Hole. (Indeed this DVD has the very eighties music video for Hell Hole as a bonus item. It makes me grin.)

It’s also nice to see all these candid moments with the band. It really humanizes them. I mean, you could be intimidated by these people. They’re monsters of heavy metal who have been around since the sixties. Nigel Tufnel. David S. Hubbins. Derek Smalls was even paid tribute to in the liner notes for Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick. And of course there’s their frighteningly tight trousers and their enormous contents. So it’s nice to have this look inside their lives and see what drives the band as real people.

The film may be a joke on the whole, but the band… the band goes to eleven.

April 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 60 – Aeon Flux

Aeon Flux – April 29th, 2010

I know this movie got a lot of flack, and I won’t go saying it’s perfect, myself. But I will come right out and say I think the movie actually does a good job translating the utter bizarreness of the cartoons to a full length feature. One of the criticisms I read was that the plot isn’t totally coherent. That the movie is strange and hard to decipher. And? Same for criticism that the movie doesn’t adhere to the world of the cartoons. The cartoons don’t adhere to the same world from episode to episode, so I can’t take that one seriously either. The cartoons were bizarre displays of slick style and theoretical battles. If anything, it’s too much a linear plot that’s too much in a cohesive and coherent world. And I’m not so sure about the character of Trevor and how he was transferred. But I’ll get to that.

I can’t really explain the movie without referring to the series. And there are so many little references to the series, like Sithandra’s foot hands, and Aeon catching the fly in her eyelashes. But it’s also its own thing. It is what every episode is: A struggle between Aeon Flux against something she believes is wrong, or has set herself against. Usually that something is at least led or fronted by a man named Trevor Goodchild. And they hate each other. And they love each other. They need each other and battle over and over and over, again and again. Elaborate plots and simple ones come and go between them. In the series, they’re impossible. They want each other but their views of the world are fundamentally opposed, and without one of them changing into a different person, they cannot ever truly reconcile. The episodes that exemplify this most to me are Thanatophobia and A Last Time For Everything.

In the movie, the world is a future where, following a plague, the few remaining humans live in a sheltered city, protected by a tyrannical government led by Trevor Goodchild and his brother, Oren, and the walls they’ve erected. It was meant to be a temporary shelter, but is also supposed to be as much of a utopia as a walled city can be. But since it’s a utopia for some, it is obviously going to be a dystopia for others. People disappear and the whole population feels a bizarre and untraceable malaise. Rebels vow to take down the government, thinking that will fix it all. Aeon is one of the rebels. And so she is sent to kill Trevor, but fails and ends up uncovering not only his brother’s plot against him, but the truth of why the city is the way it is, why the people are the way they are, who she is, who Trevor is, why he seems so familiar and what the nature of the blimp-like object floating above the city is, which I’d explain, but like a good Aeon Flux plot, it’s all vague and confused and complicated. There’s cloning and lies and manipulation and double crossing and lots of very beautiful stylized fight scenes and acrobatics and settings. The vast majority of the movie feels right. The majority of the story works for me (I do like a dystopia, as I’ve mentioned).

Then, unfortunately, there’s the minority. I said the movie captures the feel of the show, and that it does a decent job transferring. What it changes, sadly, is one of the things I love most about the show, which is the eternal conflict and attraction and dance between Aeon and Trevor. In the movie, it seems the writers took the essence of Trevor and split him between the two brothers. Trevor gets to be the one Aeon is drawn to and Oren is the one doing the horrible things for the greater good that Trevor in the series is always doing. They took the things that make it impossible for Aeon and Trevor to ever really be together and stuck them in someone that’s not Trevor. They cleared the way for the two of them to work together. It works in the context of the movie, but I find myself sighing at it. The complexity of their relationship just isn’t there. It isn’t as fascinating. Good thing there’s a nicely built and written dystopia and a Wilhelm scream for me.

April 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Aeon Flux

April 29, 2010

Aeon Flux

Yesterday’s movie about an unstoppable killing machine in a dystopian future (played by an actress who used to be a supermodel) made me want to watch today’s movie. About an unstoppable killing machine in a dystopian future (played by an actress who used to be a supermodel.) The distinction here is that Charlize Theron has an Oscar. And no recording career that I know of.

As with Watchmen I would say that Aeon Flux, the MTV Liquid Television cartoon by Peter Chung that this movie is based upon, is unfilmable. The problem is that the cartoon took delight in being obtuse. Putting aside that each episode took place in a separate continuity and that Aeon died in just about every episode, the show often just didn’t explain what was going on. It felt like there was an internal logic to the show, but it also felt like you were missing crucial bits of information. I always felt slightly off balance when watching the show. It was an uncomfortable feeling sometimes. I love discovering new worlds, and so I’d watch the show and try to unravel what was going on, who was on what side, but often there were no answers, which was part of the appeal of the show.

Given all that I think the film makers did an admirable job recreating the convoluted feel of the show, but made it more lucid, providing an actual plot and a world that makes some kind of sense in the end. The tech of the movie is very much in keeping with the show. All very organic and futuristic. Several moments in the movie are directly out of the show as well, such as passing the pill from mouth to mouth or Sithandra’s foot/hands. In my opinion the movie works well, but as with Watchmen I wonder how it stands on its own as a piece of cinema if you are unfamiliar with the cannon.

I’d like to think that this movie stands on its own as a cool bit of dystopian sci-fi. Certainly it is a more solid piece of film-making than yesterday’s entry. The action is a little less ludicrous (though there are still a whole mountain of dead faceless guards by the end.) The world is better realized. I wouldn’t say that the movie is thought provoking at any time, but it’s cool in it’s own way. More an homage to the cartoon than an adaptation.

Worth watching anyhow, and for me worth owning.

April 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 59 – Ultraviolet

Ultraviolet – April 28th, 2010

Oh, comic book movies. My husband has a thing for them. Personally, I think it’s a flawed thing, because there are certain things (ahem, 1990 Captain America) that we do not own. And it’s not that we don’t own bad comic book movies. There are some he’s just not bought and avoids thinking about. Comic book movies are so chancy. For every Iron Man there’s also a Captain America. I already made my thoughts on the trickiness of graphic novel-to-movie transitions clear. In Ultraviolet, there’s a hell of a lot of history to learn and instead of the in-my-opinion graceful way that Watchmen handled it, we get about ten minutes of narration over the admittedly very pretty opening scenes. It’s clunky.

But hey, let’s go over it for the sake of completeness. In the future there’s this disease that makes people stronger and faster and damage-resistant but also gives them longer teeth and a sunlight sensitivity and the need for blood transfusions and yeah, the papers all call it vampirism. No big shocker there. Our heroine, Violet, was infected while pregnant and doomed to life in a walled “camp” where she and other infected “hemophages” were experimented upon. And now she’s escaped and bluffed her way into a secure facility to be a badass and steal this weapon that’s been developed to get rid of all infected with the vampire plague. The “weapon” is actually a kid. In a tiny little case. They use magic tech to stuff him in there. And he’s got something in his blood that’ll kill all the vampires. Or all the humans. Or just him. Or something. And people chase Violet and she kills people and the kid (played by Cameron Bright, in the second movie I’ve seen now where he plays a lab kid – he’s also Leech in X3) goes from being all silent and not too with it to a little mini-sage who somehow managed to memorize the chemical formulae for a real cure for the vampire plague while he was being experimented on in the lab. Yeah. The plot has holes you could drive a semi through.

Basically, it’s a long chase movie. Don’t think too hard about it. Don’t try to make it make sense. Don’t expect even the would-be predictable twists that could have happened. Don’t expect a romantic subplot, because it looks like the vast majority of what was supposed to be one got left on the cutting room floor. Just appreciate the visuals and a female lead who kicks a lot of ass in fight scene after fight scene after fight scene. My one big quibble with the visuals is that they keep doing this thing where they blur people’s faces but only in part. It’s supposed to look all stylized, but it ends up just looking messy. The female lead, on the other hand, is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. But then, I do like Mila Jovovitch.

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April 28, 2010


There was a preview on this DVD for Final Fantasy: Advent Children. We don’t often watch the previews on our DVDs but we watched this one just to relive the insanity which was the Final Fantasy movie. And I’m glad we did, because it helped to prepare me mentally for Ultraviolet. This exceptionally silly movie really wants to be a video game. Violet has these bracelets that she can store weapons and ammo inside which reminded me very much of Jade in Beyond Good and Evil. And in the beginning part of the movie she has this cool device that re-orients gravity so she can run on walls and ceilings (and drive up the side of a skyscraper in her motorcycle.) All the gadgetry in the movie seems like something that your regular unstoppable video game hero or heroin would come equipped with.

I think there’s plot in here somewhere. Something about a war in a dystopian future between humans and vampires. But it doesn’t make much sense. It’s just an excuse to get Violet into a series of battles against increasingly large squadrons of rock-stupid enemies who either have ludicrously bad aim or just don’t shoot their guns at all, choosing instead to run straight into Violet’s sword and bullets. Or who shoot and stab each other. Then Violet gets to pose a bit before her outfit changes color and she goes to the next room to kill some more idiots.

That having been said – I quite enjoy this movie for the completely mindless stylized violence. And I will never say no to an opportunity to seeing Milla Jovovich pose in a series of midriff-revealing costumes. The action is fun, the set design is cool, and altogether the movie is very pretty. I’d even say that it makes slightly more sense than Advent Children did. But it makes me want to play a video game rather than just watch a movie. Maybe P.N.03. Or maybe Mirror’s Edge. I’ll bet that Metroid: Other M would be a good companion piece as well. (Although that’s not coming out until later this year.)

Let’s hear it for kickass video game heroines. Like Violet.

April 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 58 – Chicken Run

Chicken Run – April 27th, 2010

Another new view for me! I looked at the number of movies I’ve seen in our collection and the number I haven’t seen and realized if I kept up the way I was going, I would get to a point where there would be nothing but new ones. And some nights I’m just not up to that. Andy’s seen more of the collection than I have, probably because he’s the one who buys most of the DVDs and he watches things when I’m not home.

So! Chicken Run. Another victim of overhype for me. It’s not an uncommon problem. These days I try to avoid it by simply avoiding hype. It doesn’t always work, but it’s better than it used to be. The ridiculous part is that I like stop-motion animation quite a bit and I like Nick Park. So very silly of me to not watch this sooner.

It’s a cute movie. Maybe that’s not the term one should use to describe a movie about chickens escaping from a farm to keep from getting butchered for pot pies, but really, it is cute. Not in a Cute Overload sort of way, but it’s got a chicken who knits a wee little noose (and I’ve now read that the knitting was all real and done with toothpicks – bravo to the knitter for that) and it’s got a teapot with a chicken mask on it and lots of charming moments and horrible puns. It is cute, in a Sesame Street we’ve-put-jokes-in-for-the-adults-too way.

Some of the things I enjoyed: The references to things like Indiana Jones and Stalag 17 and of course the line near the end with the Scottish chicken as the engineer. Of course she is, right? She’s givin’ it all she’s got! Knowing the main character, Ginger, was voiced by Julia Sahwala and the rather absent-minded knitting chicken was voiced by Jane Hurrocks is going to leave me unable to watch Absolutely Fabulous without picturing them as hens now. And having had some experience with chickens, I will say that any time the entire flock got all riled up made me laugh, because it was spot on. Chickens aren’t the brightest of creatures (but I’ll take them over geese any day – fucking geese). But my very favorite bit: The safety scissors. Oh, safety scissors, saving us from cutting anything ever. Sure, it’s one gag in a movie full of them, but grrr. Safety scissors.

I don’t really have anything else to say about it. Nothing really insightful. It’s not that sort of movie. Like I said, it’s cute. Charming and cute and funny and well-voiced. Probably not one I’ll put in all the time, but I’m glad I finally saw it.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Chicken Run

April 27, 2010

Chicken Run

As is probably evident by now I quite enjoy a fun animated movie. And today’s movie definitely fits the bill. This was the first feature length film from Aardman Animation (The people behind Wallace And Gromit.) So naturally you can expect lots of characters with bucktoothed overbites and button eyes, and great big expressive hands. (Nick Park’s characters for some reason very much act with their hands.) As most of the characters in this movie are chickens you do end up with bucktoothed chickens, which seems like somewhat of an evolutionary misstep, but in the context of the movie (what with the chickens being talking tool-users) it seems perfectly natural.

Chicken run is a movie heavily influenced by The Great Escape (there are several references to that movie such as Ginger throwing the ball against the wall of her cell and Fowler with all the bolts down his trousers) and Stalag 17 and other such World War Two escape films. The chickens of Tweedy’s farm (and in particular the trouble making rebel Ginger) are bent on escape from confinement in their coops. Mrs. Tweedy wants to make them all into pies. And Rocky the flying Rooster is a lone rooster who flies over the fence of the farm one day and might just offer them a way out. If the chickens can learn to fly in time.

On the whole it’s actually a very quick light movie. I felt tonight like the movie was over before I had even begun writing my review. But it’s full of great little moments that made me chuckle. The time just flew by. (Sorry… couldn’t resist.)

There are a lot of really impressive bits of animation as well. There’s the whole flock of chickens, for example, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned listening to the Robot Chicken commentaries there is nothing in the world a stop-motion animator dreads more than big crowds. There’s a scene in the rain (I suspect that the rain was added in post, but the droplets on the characters are practical. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to animate drops of water or tears.) There’s the big showstopper scene when Rocky rescues Ginger from the pie making machine. So many details and bits to animate that it quite staggers the brain.

I had a lot of fun tonight. You know, I never did buy Flushed Away. I’m curious to see what Nick Park does in the medium of computer animation. I’ll have to add it to the list.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 57 – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – April 26th, 2010

Let’s start this out with an admission: I know next to nothing about makeup. Everything I know I learned in theater in high school and from movies like this and shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race. I don’t wear makeup on a daily basis. I own some ancient concealer and some green powder for minimizing redness (okay, and a boatload of nail polish, but that’s different!) and I just never really learned about makeup. My mother doesn’t wear any and I was friends with more guys in high school than girls. But I know enough to know that the makeup changes in the climactic show in the movie are impossible. So there.

Not that I care, aside from being amused. The climax isn’t supposed to be at all realistic. It’s an over-the-top drag show. Of course it’s unrealistic. That’s what makes it super fabulous. And from that little tidbit, one might think this movie is all about shows and the like. And it sort of is, but really it’s a road trip. It’s just that the people on the road trip are two drag queens and a transsexual, and the point of the trip is that the three of them are taking a bit of a break from their hometown of Sydney to do a few weeks as the cabaret act at a resort in Alice Springs.

For the most part it’s a lighthearted movie full of bits and pieces of drag acts. They do a bit where they walk around downtown Broken Hill in full drag, and then they dance on a bar in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, and they practice part of their act in the desert in the middle of the night, their music accompanied by didgeridoo. All three of them, Mitzi (also referred to as Anthony when not in drag), Felicia (Adam, out of drag) and Bernadette (who was once named Ralph, but Adam finds out the hard way that it’s unacceptable), are always sewing or playing around with their enormous pile of costumes. There are off-color songs sung, jokes made, and plenty of ABBA played until Bernadette gets sick of it. Even the highly embarrassing scene where they’ve met a guy named Bob who loves drag acts and they do the dance at the bar and get upstaged by Bob’s wife and some ping pong balls? Felicia’s reaction to it makes the whole thing worth it. But then there are a few serious moments. The bus they’re traveling in gets vandalized (prompting them to paint over the hateful graffiti with a lovely coat of lavender) and Felicia, in an ill-thought-out drug-fueled trip to meet some guys in Coober Pedy, gets attacked. That last is a scene I usually can’t watch. Even with Bernadette saving the day (she does that a lot, because she’s awesome). The thing is, even though I don’t personally like watching that scene (or the one with the ping pong balls, aside from the very end, to be honest), they don’t seem really out of place. The point of a road trip movie is the stops along the way. It would be boring if they were all the same.

Yes, even if they were all fabulous drag act stops. The variety makes the trip an interesting one. And it’s full of gorgeous scenery of the Australian outback. I’ve never been to Australia, and I’ll probably never get a chance to go. I’m not a great traveler and it’s a long ways away. But it’s beautiful to look at on screen. And so are the performances. While I mentioned last night that I do enjoy watching Guy Pearce, and he really is fantastic as Felicia in this, there’s also Hugo Weaving as the star of the movie, and Terence Stamp with the best deadpan drag ever. On top of that, the movie is incredibly quotable. So, amazing costumes, awesome makeup, fantastic acting, hilarious writing, great scenery (with and without the drag queens in the shots). It all equals faaaaaaaabulous.

April 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert

April 26, 2010

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Tonight is the season finale for RuPaul’s Drag Race (Season Two) so to celebrate we’re watching the most dragalicious movie in our collection: the Oscar winning Priscilla: QUEEN of the Desert! And I’m glad we did because this movie never fails to bring a smile to my face. It’s more than the prize winning frocks and the great musical numbers. It’s the whole package (if you’ll excuse a very bad pun.) There’s a lot of fantastic cinematography that wonderfully displays the gorgeous Australian countryside. There’s a great sense of humor to the film, but also a sort of innocence and vulnerability. What makes the movie most is the fantastic cast.

The movie is a road picture about a trio of drag queens who travel from Sydney to Alice Springs to put on a show. They choose to go by bus, and so have a two week bus trip halfway across Australia. Along the way there are setbacks, adventure and revelations. The three in question are the level headed Mitzi with her mysterious past, the experienced and world weary Bernadette and the trouble maker Felicia. The movie is all about their interactions and depends on these three cast members to carry it, and carry it they do. With distinction.

Mitzi is played by Hugo Weaving who went on to play the evil agent Smith in the Matrix movies and Elrond in the Lord of the Rings movies (so we’ll be seeing him again in our project.) She’s the core of the group who instigates the whole trip and her character has some secrets from the other two which are used to great comedic effect. Then there’s Terrence Stamp as the transsexual Bernadette who has seen it all and done it all. Her husband has just died at the start of the movie and she needs to get out of Sydney and get a fresh start. The whole movie is stolen, however, by Guy Pierce as Felicia. She exists only to cause trouble, and strife, and as a result dominates every scene she is in. Her insane cackle is infectious. And it doesn’t hurt that, as my wife is no doubt pointing out in her own review, Guy Pierce is pretty easy on the eyes.

None of the three leads are true drag performers, and there are definitely some rough edges to their dance numbers, but oh, man the costumes! They very much deserved that Oscar win, especially the great Australian themed outfits from the Alice Springs show. And the famous flip-flop dress. And… just all of them. The music is catchy and the humor is touching, so who cares if there are a few missteps in the choreography and the lip syncing isn’t always perfect.

I love this movie and will watch it any time.

Now it’s off to watch RuPaul. I do hope Raven won!

April 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment