A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 474 – Earth Girls Are Easy

Earth Girls Are Easy – June 17th, 2011

This is one of those movies that Andy and I have agreed to disagree on. I first saw it at his behest and I wasn’t taken with it at the time and he bought it on his own and he enjoys it. And it simply does nothing for me. It takes up space in my life. That’s what it does. It’s not something I would put in on my own or stop on if I was flipping channels, but I don’t object to owning it. I don’t even really object to watching it. I just have better things to do.

I find it really hard to pinpoint just what about this movie falls flat for me. I mean, the whole movie does, but I’m not sure of the exact problems. I mean, I’m not crazy about the musical numbers or the sex scene or the zany madcap plot, but there’s something else I can’t put my finger on and it’s bothering me. Because usually when I’m not fond of a movie I can point to a reason and feel satisfied by it. Here? It’s just not fun for me to watch.

The plot follows Valerie, a young manicurist living and working in LA. She’s engaged to Ted, who’s a doctor. He’s also a total douche and I really can’t stand to see him on screen. He cheats on Valerie and treats her like she’s nothing and he’s generally the villain of the movie. Valerie catches him cheating on her, throws him out and proceeds to trash all his stuff. And then a trio of furry aliens crash land their ship in her backyard pool. So her rebound involves giving the aliens makeovers and teaching them about Earth while they pick up the language by watching television. Oh, and she has a fling with the alien played by Jeff Goldblum.

Along the way two of the aliens get arrested, Ted tries to get Valerie back and ends up escorted away by the police for being the douche that he is, Valerie moans a lot about Ted, Ted eventually tries to dissect two of the aliens and there’s more music. I’d kind of blocked out the musical aspect to this movie. Totally forgot there were any musical numbers at all. They’re mostly Julie Brown bouncing around doing the California Girl thing that Moon Unit Zappa skewered so perfectly. They don’t engage me much and you would think that being the nail polish nut that I am, I’d at least enjoy the makeover number, but I admit I spent the whole thing playing a game on my DS. Told you I had better things to do.

I think part of the problem for me when it comes to this movie is that I’m fairly sure that it’s making fun of the whole Valley Girl thing, but it also trades on it in a way that isn’t entirely parody. So it’s very hard for me to watch it without seeing it as a bit of a failure in that respect. It falls too firmly outside the realm of parody for me and I blame the character of Valerie for it. Valerie is a competent young woman who ends up taking care of quite a lot of the problems the movie throws at her. She’s also a stereotypical flake, but she’s not quite played for laughs. She wavers between being mad at Ted, who tries to slice up her new friends, after all, to being so thrilled that he might take her back that she’s willing to run away to Las Vegas with him to get married right away. In fact, I think how Valerie is presented in relation to Ted is a huge part of the problem for me. Play the character for the humor of her explaining 80s LA culture to three goofy aliens, but don’t have her mope about her lousy ex.

In addition to the 80s LA thing the movie has going on, there’s also plenty of just plain goofball humor. The aliens, particularly the two played by Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey, spend much of their time totally misunderstanding everything they come across except girls, whom they ogle and flirt with. They drink a lava lamp and eat tropical fish (though none of them were named Wanda, so they’re safe from Ken’s wrath) and accidentally hold up a convenience store for candy and a porno mag. Goldblum’s the only serious one and even he has his moments of absurdity.

I just don’t really care about this movie. I could delve deeper into the issues presented by how the female characters are presented and treated. I could go into a discussion of the difficulties of marrying parody and homage (but to sum up my opinion: John Waters pulls it off and this movie doesn’t). I could complain about the aliens’ full body waxing revealing totally normal (for a Hollywood value of normal) humanoids. Or I could just shrug and go back to my game. Because I just don’t have a hell of a lot of energy at the moment and I don’t want to expend what I have on poking this movie to pieces. I can see why people might like it and I won’t insist that Andy never watch it. I just don’t really care.

June 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 438 – 5 Superfighters

5 Superfighters – May 12th, 2011

One might think that last night’s movie was truly the ultimate when it comes to movies with incredibly thin plots to allow for a truckload of fight scenes. One would be wrong. Oh so very wrong. Because movies like this one exist and I’ve got to admit, it’s hard to beat. This was yet another movie acquired from my coworker’s husband. We knew nothing about it when we got it other than that it was a kung fu movie. IMDB doesn’t even have a running time listed (it’s about an hour and a half, for anyone curious) so we figured out if it was watchable tonight by popping it in and forwarding to the end to see what the timer on the DVD player read. The disc has no options, the dubbing is patchy, the soundtrack cuts out oddly in a few places and there are VHS artifacts carried over to the DVD release. It was a mystery to us and oh, oh am I glad we own it.

This is not going to be a long review because really, what can I say about this movie? It’s fairly low budget and the plot is a thin shell around fight scene after fight scene. I can’t comment much on the acting both because of the dubbing and because of the lack of plot. I can talk about the fighting and the soundtrack, but that’s really about where we stand here. There’s just lot a whole lot of substance and that’s clearly by design, not accident. No one set out to make this movie an epic masterpiece of storytelling. But more than one person obviously set out to make it a little over ninety minutes of king fu fighting.

There’s a trope I’ve noticed in watching the kung fu movies we’ve done so far. It’s the hidden kung fu master. The true masters, the people who can beat anyone and teach the main character the necessary skills to beat the villain and whatnot? They aren’t running schools or taking on student after student. They don’t walk around announcing that, like Neo, they know kung fu. No. They live normal and mundane lives until some heroic type brings trouble to their doorstep. In this movie we have a drunken beggar, a fisherman and a bean curd maker. The only reason we find out that they can do kung fu in the first place (let alone that they’re masters) is because they get forced into defending themselves. On the other end of the spectrum, we have a teacher and his three students, whom he took in and raised after finding them as orphans. Granted, he’s not running around preening about his skills, but he’s not hiding in plain sight or anything. And so when the villain, a kung fu master proclaiming that he is the master of correcting bad kung fu, shows up, he kicks said teacher’s ass. And he whoops all three students too. So off they go to find new teachers so they can learn how to beat this mysterious master to exact revenge for their first teacher’s humiliation.

If you’re thinking there’s anything more to this movie than the three students (and their teacher) all going out and finding new people to learn from? You are clearly expecting too much from this movie. Even the scenery is minimal at best. Each of the three students goes out to find a new teacher. One finds a woman who makes bean curd and kicks the snot out of four potential suitors who won’t take no for an answer. He ends up getting some bonus lessons from her blind father too. One finds a drunken beggar whose character is a pretty hideous stereotype, so I kind of found other things to do whenever he was on screen and talking. Fighting, on the other hand, well, he’s pretty kick-ass, which is the point. Then there’s the third student, who meets a fisherman who tosses a net over him, then takes him on as a student. They all have to convince their prospective teachers to take them on. They all fight and train and fight some more. Meanwhile at home the teacher gets a new teacher of his own. And there’s more fighting. And more fighting. And eventually everyone meets back up again and there’s a big climactic fight with the villain and the teacher and students tag each other in and out and use all the techniques they’ve learned in their time apart.

There’s certainly a lot of humor here, with tongue in cheek characterizations and lines. I wish I could hear the original delivery and read the translation subtitled because while I suspect that things like “Your method of instruction is lousy!” and “[I come] from a far away place… all the way from HELL!” were intended to be hilarious, I can’t quite tell if they’re faithful to the original. It’s all so very silly. But I would say the dubbing takes away from that. It changes the timing and delivery on lines and exchanges and I can’t say this is a problem exclusive to this movie, it certainly could have been done better.

One thing I do like about the soundtrack we have here is the music. Again, no clue if it’s in the original, but man is it fantastic. It runs the gamut from cheesy late 70s jazz to hilarious 80s synth. It’s an incongruous combination of music and movie and there’s something so perfect about it. It adds into the whole vibe of the movie and I’ve got to say I thoroughly enjoyed it, dubbing and all. There’s just something fun and mindless about it. I didn’t even have to do any reading to enjoy this movie. I just sat back and enjoyed the fight scenes and humor and music and really, that seems to be the whole point of this movie.

May 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 355 – Flash Gordon (1980)

Flash Gordon (1980) – February 18th, 2011

Somehow, and I have no clue how, I had never seen this movie before. I know, right? Bizarre! I’ve seen Barbarella a dozen times or more and somehow this just never made its way to my screen. I know there were times when people I knew were watching it, or it was on, and the universe just seems to have conspired to always make me busy at the time, or focused on watching something else already. It just strikes me as odd. I even had a friend in high school whose nickname was based on this movie (not that he chose it, but that’s how it is with nicknames). You’d think I’d have made a point of checking it out just to see what he’d been saddled with. And no. I never did. Thank goodness that’s been rectified.

I really am baffled by it. This is a movie starring Brian Blessed, with Richard O’Brien and Deep Roy in bit parts, with a soundtrack by Queen, and I’m only just now seeing it. Also, it’s got Lobot. You know, the cyborg dude with the headset in Empire Strikes Back? This time he’s got cyborg eyes instead of ears. Try to spot him! It’s just amazing. I’m still kind of stunned by it. It’s precisely the kind of sci-fi cheese I adore, full of scenery chewing and sparkly costumes and psychedelic special effects. There are lizard men! and hawk men and tree men and oh, it’s just lovely.

Coming into this movie, all I really knew was that it was going to be cheesy and Brian Blessed wore a helmet with pointy bits. That was really it. Oh, I knew character names, but how everything came together? Nope. It’s established early on that Flash Gordon is a bit of a celebrity and plays football and is hunky, and also that a villain named Ming the Merciless is bent on destroying Earth by ramming the Moon into it. Flash, a woman named Dale, and a scientist named Dr. Zarkov, who’s been predicting an alien attack on Earth, end up in a rocket and arrive at Ming’s planet, Mongo. Turns out Ming’s an all-around asshole who has a bunch of moons (sort of) where various Mongo races live in warring kingdoms. You’ve got your ice moon (Frigia), your foresty swamp moon (Arboria), etc. His daughter’s all over the men, which is fine and all, but she’s also all over her dad, which is creepy like ew. Anyhow, Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov are taken prisoner and then there’s a football game.

I wish I was joking. This is the point in the movie where my jaw literally dropped open and stayed that way until the scene was over. Flash Gordon seriously defeats a troop of Mongo soldiers by playing football (with a giant green and gold Fabrege egg – cause apparently unless he’s holding something approximately the size and shape of a football he can’t tackle or anything). The scene even has some cheerleading moves from Dale. Fortunately for me, since I’m not big on football, they don’t use that tactic again. The closest the movie comes to it is having Flash espouse teamwork to the two princes he ends up dealing with (Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin of Arboria and Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan of the Hawk People or something like that – they have wings and he’s Brian Blessed, who cares what they’re called). Ming takes a liking to Dale and sweeps her away to be made one of his concubines and Princess “Handsy With Daddy” Aura takes a liking to Flash and rescues him from being executed.

And here is where we get some sadly unfortunate bits. Because you know, I’m just not down with the whole unwelcome sexual contact thing. I’m especially not down with the bit where Ming’s folks try to get Dale drunk so she won’t care when he forces himself on her later. And while Flash certainly doesn’t hit the same level of sleaze as whatshisface in Beastmaster did, he’s got one moment where I wanted to slap him. Cause it’s totally a good idea to compliment your female companion for being hot after she was forced to act all sensual without her consent. Not douchey at all! But for all that? He later has some good moments, and ends up having to fend off some unwelcome advances himself, and Dale gets to kick a whole lot of ass. I’d read in the trivia that George Lucas wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie and then made Star Wars instead when he found the rights had been sold already. And really, it’s impressive how many little moments of similarity there are, but the one that stood out the most to me is Dale’s escape scene. It’s so Princess Leia. She kicks, she punches, she steals guns and uses them to shoot and smack baddies. Dale has some damsel in distress moments, but she is far from helpless, and I appreciate that in a female lead.

Really though, the movie is camp and cheese and ridiculousness and a whole lot of fun. It’s got elaborate costumes and sets. It’s got eye candy for pretty much everyone (scantily clad men and women, showing off legs-a-plenty). It’s got women kicking ass and men working together. It’s got Richard O’Brien playing a huge set of pipes with a golden snake on them. And it has a line that caused me to weep a single tear of pure joy: With Queen playing in the background, Brian Blessed hollers “WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER, EH?!” What the hell more could I ask?

February 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 204 – The Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983 – dub)

The Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983 – dub) – September 20th, 2010

We totally own this movie by accident. I’m sure Andy will go into more detail, but he’s pretty sure he bought this to spite a guy who worked at one of the stores he worked at, who’d put it aside and then never bought it. So we kept seeing it on our list and I’d say “What is that?” and he’d say “I have no idea.” And then when we started it I described it to a friend who promptly said “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that.” All it took was “magical samurai movie with Sonny Chiba and a huge flying rubber snake”. Maybe there are others that fit that description. I don’t know. He knew it immediately and assured me there was plenty out there about the basic story that is the basis for the movie. He was right, and I’m glad, because I had questions.

Unfortunately for me, I’m not terribly well versed in the story this movie is based on. I did a little reading up, but I’d have to spend longer than I’ve got tonight to really know enough to make more than the most superficial of observations. The original work was a serial published in the early to mid 1800s. It’s been reworked a few times for various formats, including this movie. The basic story involves eight samurai who embody the eight ideals of Confucianism. In this version there’s a princess whose family was cursed and killed by an evil sorceress/vampire queen. Also unfortunately for me, the version we have is a poorly dubbed and pathetically pan and scan cut of the movie. So I fear a good deal of the mythology and folklore aspects of the story have been changed around to supposedly suit American audiences. It’s pretty obvious when the samurai are all called ninjas instead. I’ll get to the pan and scan issues later.

At first I admit I was a little lost. I blame the dubbing, which really does make the dialogue and the action seem thoroughly disjointed in many places. But as the movie went on, it got easier and easier to follow it. Princess Shizu’s family has been wiped out by the evil queen Tamazusa. When she runs off and hides from Tamazusa’s warriors, Shizu is first found by a rogue named Shinbei (Hiroyuki Sanada), then by two traveling samurai, Dosetsu (Sonny Chiba) and Daikaku. Dosetsu and Daikaku explain the backstory to Shizu, which involves a queen and eight magical stones which are now held by the eight samurai who will help Shizu defeat Tamazusa. With our backstory and plot in place, off we go to seek out the other six samurai! That’s really the vast majority of the movie. They encounter someone, they get attacked, a samurai joins them, attack, samurai, attack, lather, rinse, repeat. Like I said, it got easier to follow, largely because it became obvious what was going to have to happen.

From my reading, I know that some of the samurai characters were changed around. I don’t mind so much. Maybe if I was really into the original text and the more faithful adaptations, I’d be annoyed to see one of the samurai as a woman, but seeing as I’m not, I quite like her. My problem is that since there are eight samurai, a princess, an evil queen, her evil son and two demons in her employ, not to mention a number of minor characters, there’s a lot that there just isn’t time for on screen. This is based on a story that was published in series for over thirty years. It’s not concise. While the princess meets Dosetsu and Daikaku right away, and Shinbei’s around from the beginning, there’s still Keno, Shino, Sosuke, Kobungo and Genpachi to introduce and give background to. Keno and Shino get a bit of time, but we barely get a few sentences from Sosuke and Kobungo to explain their situation and poor Genpachi only gets a couple of meaningful looks and no real background whatsoever. Maybe it’s better laid out in the original cut of the movie. I honestly don’t know. I hope it is, because it’s kind of the major draw from the source.

I like the idea of each of the samurai having a different defining aspect, though it’s not really the only thing that defines them and in some cases it’s a bit vague. This very helpful site outlined the way the virtues went in the original text, but when I looked around I couldn’t find anything that really listed how things got moved around in the movie. Combining that with a couple of essays on the movie, I think I managed to make myself a list, but since the movie gives such short screen time to some of these characters, there’s no good way to tell just how well matched they are.

Dosetsu has chuu, or loyalty.
Daikaku has gi, or duty.
Sosuke has chi, or wisdom even though in the original he had gi.
Keno has rei, or propriety, or something that looks like it, though she’s supposed to have had chi.
Kobungo has tei, or brotherly affection.
Shino has kou, or filial piety.
Genpachi has shin, or faith.
Shinbei has jin, which I’ve now seen several definitions of but seems to be the embodiment of all virtue. I saw it defined as humanity and sympathy as well.

The trouble is that for some characters, the virtues they get suit them, but others really don’t. Dosetsu and Daikaku have loyalty and duty. Fine, they’re the first two to help the princess and they stick by her. Shinbei’s trait isn’t displayed until late in the movie, but it works fine. But then there are the rest. We barely get to know Sosuke and Kobungo. The rest of the group meets them in a cave, sees that they’re two of the samurai they’re looking for, and all we know is that the local villagers are scared of the caves and think they’re cursed. Kobungo being fond of his younger brother, Sosuke, is a bit of a cheat, and Sosuke never really displays the wisdom his crystal claims he has. Genpachi is a warrior for the bad guys for most of the movie and gets maybe two lines, tops, so who knows where his faith comes in. And then there’s Keno and Shino. Keno’s an assassin when we meet her and I honestly have no idea if propriety is supposed to be a joke for her. Shino’s much the same, defying his father right before it’s discovered that his crystal claims he has the virtue of filial piety. If it was on purpose, I get it, but given that some of the others fit, some are cheats and some don’t, it comes off as an odd choice.

I’m obsessing a little over the crystals and the samurai, but really they were what struck me about the movie. I wanted to know them better. To be honest, I didn’t care much for either Shinbei or Shizu, neither of whom are very deep characters. I wanted to know more of Keno’s background. What brought her to the point where she was posing as wedding entertainment in order to behead the groom? And what about Genpachi? How did he get sucked into working for Tamazusa? I want those stories! I get that there’s a whole epic love story going on with Shinbei and Shizu, but I’m not an epic love story sort of gal. It’s not a performance issue for either actor. They were both good with their material. It’s just that I want assassins and morally conflicted warriors!

Really, though, I liked the story. I’ve got quibbles and it’s got flaws, but overall I found it enjoyable. I haven’t really addressed the visuals and effects yet, and I think I have a good reason. Three words: pan and scan. I hate pan and scan. I am a firm believer in letterboxing and widescreen editions of movies. There are some classic examples of pan and scan ruining a scene, like when Obi Wan talks about Mos Eisley in Star Wars and the pan and scan version lingers on Obi Wan and the long shot of Mos Eisley is cut out entirely, so you have no clue what he’s on about. This movie is full of those. There’s lots of shots where I’m pretty sure there was something important going on elsewhere on screen, but whoever did the panning and scanning decided not to show it. The final scene, with Shizu and Shinbei is utterly laughable, as they’re ostensibly riding side by side but can’t be shown in the same shot, so it alternates between them. I can criticize the giant flying rubber snake and centipede and not feel bad about it, but I refuse to complain about the cinematography. There’s some good stuff in there, in theory. I’ll reserve judgement until we’ve got it in widescreen.

All in all, I really had no idea what to expect tonight and while I can’t say that this movie is a hidden jewel of a film, it is a heck of a lot of fun. More than I thought it would be. The messiness of the story, the annoying pan and scan, the rubber snake, the 80s synth music that permeates the entire film, yes, they’re problems. And maybe it’s that I really enjoy a fun quest film regardless of flaws. But I liked this. I liked it a lot and I enjoyed watching it. And yes, I think we are indeed buying the subtitled widescreen version. All because of an accidental purchase we knew nothing about.

September 20, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment