A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Machete

June 9, 2012

Machete

There is nobody on the planet who knows how to make a better action movie than Robert Rodriguez. He has a very pure sense of the melodramatic zeitgeist of low budget gorefest good times. His half of the Grindhouse film he made with Quentin Tarantino was a prime example. Planet Terror was a rollicking good time filled with over-the-top moments and with a fantastic sense of self-aware humor. In the middle of Grindhouse, as part of the faux seventies flavor of the film, there were a couple of make-believe trailers for films that didn’t exist – and one of them was for the gore filled revenge film “Machete.” Let’s start there: that trailer absolutely rocks.

The trailer played out the plot of a formulaic grindhouse action film that seemed instantly familiar. It was a Charles Bronson style revenge film. A “They should have made sure he was dead” plot about a deadly man with nothing to lose hunting down the men who set him up as the fall guy in an assassination attempt. It was was filled with awesome action and humor moments. Machete leaping out a window of a high rise hanging from a rope and smashing through the window beneath that. Cheech Marin as a vengeful priest. Machete on a motorcycle with a minigun mounted between the handlebars riding out of a giant fireball. I don’t know anybody who saw that preview who didn’t immediately want to see the actual movie (which, of course, didn’t even exist – which was the whole joke.)

The challenge Rodriguez had when he decided to expand that ultra-awesome trailer into a feature film was to find a way to put all those iconic story beats from the trailer into a coherent whole and deliver on the promise of the preview. Unfortunately I have to admit that in many ways it doesn’t feel to me that the film is as much fun as the trailer. It’s clever and entertaining but it also feels watered down, burdened by its own plot and constrained by the compromise of trying to work within the restraints of what was already established about the film by the faux-preview.

What appears to be the biggest problem is that Rodriguez hasn’t made the movie the preview was about. The preview was for a totally cliche seventies revenge film. That’s what I was gleefully anticipating when I bought this DVD. The movie starts out really strong in this mode with a hilariously gore-filled pre-credits sequence showing Machete as a federal agent in Mexico on a one-man rampage against a local drug lord as he storms a hideout in an attempt to rescue a girl (who it is implied is maybe his long lost daughter?) She betrays him and he has to watch helplessly as both she and his wife are killed by the drug kingpin (played fantastically by Steven Seagal attempting a Mexican accent) and Machete is left for dead in a burning building. Everything about this pre-credits bit delivers on the promise of the preview – perfectly catching the feel of the Grindhouse aesthetic from the deliberately poor editing to the cheesy blood spurting special effects to the gratuitous nudity. This was the movie I was looking forward to watching.

After the credits, though, it becomes an entirely different beast. The movie becomes one about the plight of Mexican immigrants in the southwestern US. The bad guys are not so much the evil Mexican drug lord (though he does still play a part) but are a corrupt senator, a group of racist redneck militiamen, and an evil political adviser. I can totally see where Rodriguez is going with this movie – and I respect it and want to see that film. It’s almost a companion piece to Once Upon a Time in Mexico – with its populist uprising against entrenched corruption theme. It just never quite works with the premise laid out in the pre-credit sequence or the trailer. It’s as though Machete got somehow transported out of his own movie and inserted into a completely different film. The real hero of this movie is the revolutionary leader Luz who by day helps immigrants get papers and jobs from her taco truck and by night runs the “network” to give a better life to the downtrodden. Michelle Rodriguez Is fun to watch in the role, and the real pivotal moment of the film for me is when she finally takes up the role of the mythical “She” – a legend she has created to inspire the people. I would totally have watched THAT movie – a kind of female Zorro film. But instead it has to be contorted to fit all the moments from the Machete preview into it. There’s a clash between these two movies that are trying to co-exist, and as a result both are weakened.

Another weakness of the movie is that it feels a little worn out in places. There are some scenes that feel as though they are recycled and re-purposed from other Rodriguez films. There’s the shootout in the girlfriend’s home that cribs from El Mariachi. There’s the assault on the church that feels as though it’s the same scene from Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Even the climactic battle in the redneck compound feels like a watered down version of the populist uprising that caps Once Upon a Time. It was always fun to see Machete finding new ways to stab badguys (and there are a couple great moments – like when he steers a car from the back seat by twisting the machete he’s stabbed into the driver) but that’s not quite enough to really make the movie work.

There’s also the matter of Machete’s supposed love interest. Jessica Alba plays a good hearted but misguided immigrations and customs agent who is investigating Luz and the network. There is much talk of how she is “betraying her own people” and she has a sort of smeared in shoe-polish look that is meant to imply that she’s Mexican but it really, really didn’t work for me. Okay, so Amanda informs me that she does have Mexican heritage, but in the film she appears about as Mexican as Charlton Heston. Some of the stunt casting in the movie is a lot of fun, like Steven Seagal as the drug lord or Robert DeNiro as the southern senator (one of my favorite bits of his is when he drops his southern drawl and admits that he’s not even from those parts and doesn’t even like it there) but Alba never worked for me. There’s also no chemistry whatsoever between Alba and the always awesome Danny Trejo. One of the recurring jokes of the plot is that all the women in the film fawn over Machete and throw themselves at him. He, in turn sort of stoically and resignedly gives in to their advances. I like the humor of a hero who is not so much a womanizer as cursed with irresistible animal magnetism – and I see potential there for some pathos even since he’s lost everyone he ever loved, but it does not make for any kind of romantic sub-plot. And yet the movie tries to imply that there is a romance there. Very odd.

Ultimately my biggest complaint about this movie is that it shows so much promise but can’t deliver on it. I see so much here that I really WANT to love. Danny Trejo and Cheech Marin have been almost running gags in Robert Rodriguez’s work – appearing in cameos and supporting roles in almost every one of his films. Here, finally, they get big leading roles, and I was all ready to cheer and gloat. That the movie doesn’t provide the thrills I was expecting based on the trailer and even based on the first ten minutes of the movie almost feels like a betrayal. In the end I didn’t feel that Machete got his revenge for the death of his wife – even if all the bad guys ultimately did end up dead. Maybe my expectations were set too high – or were mis-directed by the promise of the trailer. Maybe it’s an impossible task to take a minute and a half of awesome iconic moments and build an hour and a half long movie out of them. This is not the movie I was hoping it would be though, and that left me feeling a little sad.

Advertisements

June 9, 2012 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

TrollHunter

December 3, 2011

TrollHunter

We decided a couple weeks ago to watch this movie tonight specifically. Today Amanda and I attended the annual Yuletide Festival presented by the Boston branch of the Swedish Women’s Educational Association. It’s a traditional family outing with her parents and some of our closest friends that we look forward to each year, and it marks the start of the Christmas season for us. It also puts us in a Scandinavian mood, what with all the Swedish culture and traditions. We get meatballs with lingenberries. I have Glögg and Julmust. This year Amanda’s mother bought a big book full of gorgeous pictures of the Swedish countryside. This year we get to follow that up with a movie with a uniquely Scandinavian flare – this strange faux documentary about Norway’s only licensed troll hunter.

In many ways this movie is clearly inspired by The Blair Witch Project in that it is presented as found footage of an ill fated expedition, but this movie has a great tongue in cheek humor to it that makes it a different sort of beast. It follows a trio of college students who are trying to get an interview with a mysterious man who they suspect is a notorious bear poacher. It is explained through news on the radio and interviews with local authorised bear hunters that although there have been killings and mauling of farm animals attributed to bears in the wilds of Norway only these few professionals licensed by the government are allowed to actually kill bears, and the hunters are upset because lately they suspect this individual in a beat up white range rover of killing bears without a license.

The three youths – journalism students and film makers from a local college – track down the poacher at a RV camp where his trailer is abandoned each night as he drives off to do whatever is that he does each night. He doesn’t want anything to do with the kids, but they doggedly follow him into the woods one night where they are attacked by some creature in the darkness that bites one of the trio, at which point the grizzled poacher reluctantly agrees to let them tag along with him and explains just what exactly it is that he does. He hunts trolls.

At first of course the students are skeptical, but very soon they have an encounter with their first giant nocturnal monster and they come to realize that everything the hunter, Hans, has told them is true. He warns them that trolls can smell the blood of a christian, so none of them had best believe in God or Jesus. He gives them troll musk to coat themselves in so as not to frighten their quarry. Trolls can be killed, it turns out, by using UV light because they either ossify, turning to stone, in sunlight or explode. The reason that nobody knows any of this, aside from what they’ve heard in fairy tales as children, is that the Norwegian government covers up all information about trolls. Hans is dogged by an official stuffed shirt who makes sure that nobody ever discovers what it is that he does for a living, planting dead bears at the scenes of troll-related carnage and creating flimsy cover stories. Hans is fed up with the ignominy of his job, the awful hours and the lack of recognition, so he has decided that he might as well let these students collect their footage and make their film to let the world know the truth.

It’s when the trolls start to actually show up that the movie really starts to be fun. It’s not just that the special effects are cool and the design for the trolls themselves are a great combination of big-nosed classic illustrations and gritty realism (though they are.) What really makes this movie special I think is the sense of Norwegian civic pride to it. When the students have their first big encounter with a troll they’re not just terrified and exhilarated by the danger and thrill of their adventure – they’re exuberant to discover that trolls really are real – all their childhood stories had a basis in truth!

There’s a sense that the trolls are not just dangerous wild predators that eat anything they can get their hands on (though they are partial to rocks apparently) but that they are also precious national treasures. They’re mysterious and majestic in their own odd way. Over the course of the movie we get to see a number of different types of troll, and we learn all about them. They can grow to be as much as 1200 years old. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some travel in packs, some wander alone. There are rivalries between the woodland trolls and the mountain ones.

I understand that there is an American re-make of this movie in production now. I have to admit that I don’t think that there’s any way a re-make can capture what it is about this movie that makes it work as well as it does. This movie thrives on the gorgeous Norwegian landscapes, the lore and traditions, the sense that trolls are part of Norwegian culture and national pride. I can’t imagine that the movie would work at all in any other country, much less without the original Norwegian and subtitles. I’m so glad we have this version and that we watched it tonight. Happy yule everyone!

December 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ghost World

October 26, 2011

Ghost World

I love absolutely everything about the first two thirds or so of this movie. I bought it for Thora Birch, and she is awesome. I also bought it because it was based on an indie comic book, and it has that strange quality to it, which I also enjoy. It has Steve Buscemi, who is always cool. There are parts of this movie that feel like almost a live action Daria – full of cynicism and angst.

On the other hand, this movie is pretty painful to watch. The character that Thora Birch plays, Enid, is so completely jaded that she ends up being pretty nasty to just about everybody. She’s bitter and mean, often without really meaning to be. Over the course of the movie she befriends an eccentric loser that she starts the movie tormenting and ultimately she proceeds to destroy his life.

At the start of the movie Enid and her best friend Rebecca graduate from high school, with all the social awkwardness that such an event holds for a pair of cynical girls who are too smart to really be dealing with high school peers. They have no plans to go to college, instead they intend to move into an apartment together and live their own quirky life. They spend their time being snarky, following strangers and making fun of them, and generally trying not to be a part of the pathetic suburban lives of everybody around them.

I fully understand that aloof angst, and although Enid is fairly cruel a lot of the time there’s a good amount of humor in seeing the way she dismisses the shallow world she finds herself inhabiting. In general Rebecca is the stable one of the two and Enid is a the instigator who thinks it would be hilarious to follow that strange looking couple or prank call some guy who placed a desperate singles ad.

So Enid calls the guy and pretends to be the woman he saw one day on a bus and watches as he sits sadly waiting for the woman to show up. After that she follows the guy home and eventually discovers that he’s actually kind of cool in his own pathetic and lonely kind of way. He collects all kinds of cool kitchy stuff. Old timey records (he has a collection full of items that are one of only two known remaining copies for example) and pictures and posters – everything in his apartment has a sort of patina of things left over from a lost age.

Enid befriends Seymore because, really, he’s just so awesome. She spends a lot of the movie hanging around with him. Going to his awkward record collector party. Trying to fix him up with women. Throwing him a birthday party. He ends up with a kind of crush on her, which she doesn’t really understand because she’s so caught up in being miserable about her own life.

Amanda found this movie almost physically painful to watch. I fully understand why, too, because it’s all about depression and embarrassment, or at leas appears to be for huge swaths of the movie. I find it hard as well. At the same time, however, I love these characters, and the actors that play them, so much that I can’t stop watching because these are the kind of people I’d like to spend my time with. My best friend in college, Christine, was basically a less depressive version of Enid. She had that same love for kitch and that same inability to say no to the craziest of impulses. I suppose that most of the reason I enjoy this movie is that it reminds me of the adventures Christine would drag me into back in those days. It’s a nostalgia thing.

October 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 592 – Animal House

Animal House – October 13th, 2011

By all rights I should hate this movie. It’s not like I relate to it, given that my own college experience was so very different than the one portrayed in this movie and I’m not a guy. It’s full of raunchy humor, drinking, objectification of women and one dead animal joke. On the other hand, the cast is fantastic, a fair amount of the humor is fun no matter what and the pay off at the end is some of the best chaotic revenge one could ask for. But honestly, I’m still baffled by how much I enjoy this movie. I feel almost like I should be ashamed.

I should start out by explaining my own college experience. I had friends who drank, but I never did and even the friends I had who did drink didn’t party quite that hard. Heavy drinking was really an occasional thing and wild parties weren’t thrown spontaneously – they were planned properly and we got permits for them from the school and everything. So it should go without saying that they weren’t too wild. The wildest party I attended while I was there was a party thrown for the whole college (sounds weak, but it was an annual bash and we had bouncers out of necessity). In this movie, some of the main characters take a little bit of a road trip to Emily Dickinson College, where they trick some nice young women into going on a date with them. My college? Was more like Emily Dickinson College. This is why I feel like I should be a little ashamed. But I can’t really bring myself to be ashamed. I’m usually too busy snickering.

By now this movie is a classic, so let’s dispense with the plot summary quickly. Because it’s an ensemble piece it’s not really about the personal journey of any one character. And really, it’s not about a personal journey for anyone. It’s about a fraternity, Delta Tau Chi, whose members are more interested in partying than classes and how they’re targeted by the college administration and then get their revenge. And let’s face it: everything the school administrators say about the frat is true. They are lazy and their house is an absolute mess. They’re loud and they’re obnoxious and they throw noisy drunken parties at the drop of a hat. Their grades are abysmal and they’re not really involved in any activities. They’d make horrible neighbors and they certainly wouldn’t be enhancing the reputation of the school. But since the administrators and their rival fraternity members are all such assholes, where the Deltas are shown as fun guys who aren’t looking to put anyone else down so much as they just want to have a good time, well. You can’t help but root for them.

It’s really a very silly situation. In real life I’m sure I wouldn’t be rooting for them, but this movie presents them just enough on the side of “lovable scamps” that I do. Granted, they’re college-age scamps and their scampering is more along the line of throwing toga parties and causing mayhem during the homecoming parade. Still, that’s the light they’re shown in and somehow I think the movie pulls it off. Which, when you stop to think about it, is really rather impressive.

Now, on the other hand, I really don’t care at all for how the movie shows some of the Deltas interacting with women. The aforementioned road trip to Emily Dickinson College begins with convincing the women that one of the Deltas was engaged to a recently deceased Emily Dickinson student, then ends with the Deltas abandoning the young women at a roadhouse. That’s mitigated by a scene that makes it clear that no harm came to the women aside from having to walk home, but still. The implication the movie makes is that the women were a hair’s breadth away from being assaulted, which is unpleasant in several ways, especially given the racial implications of the scene. And then there’s a whole subplot about how one of the Delta pledges sleeps with a girl whom he assumes is over 18 but it turns out she’s very much underage. And that’s not even touching the implications of the line “The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests – we did.” Yeah. This is why I feel like I should be ashamed for liking this movie.

Still, there’s a lot of good solid humor here that doesn’t rely on that sort of joke and the cast is really very good. John Belushi plays the iconic role of Bluto, who is probably the most recognizable character of the movie. He drinks hard and parties hard and he’s both obnoxious and frequently incomprehensible, but he is the heart of the Delta house. But for me, the character I end up focusing on is Boon, played by Peter Riegert. I can’t help it. I really like Riegert. And I like his friendship with the fraternity president, Otter (played by James Widdoes). They’re obviously best buds and often partners in crime and the actors playing them have a fantastic rapport that makes their conversations feel perfect. I’ve also got a soft spot for Boon because he’s the only one of the guys (aside from pledge Flounder) who actually has a girlfriend. He’s certainly a member of the fraternity, but he’s got it a little bit more together than the rest. Not enough, since his girlfriend, played by the fantastic Karen Allen, breaks up with him temporarily mid-movie, but they get back together at the end.

I only spent a few lines on the plot summary above because really, this movie doesn’t so much need a plot summary. The plot is there to allow the Deltas to do what they do, not to tell a cohesive story. So long as the bad guys are adequately identified and vilified and the good guys are allowed to triumph in the end, that’s what matters. And the point here is really to watch the Deltas be the Deltas. And that’s all basically there to lead up to the end, when they use all of their pranking and havoc-creating skills to thoroughly ruin the homecoming parade. It’s a fantastic scene full of great moments for the whole fraternity. What I really like about the ending is that it doesn’t wrap everything up neatly. I mean, the Deltas don’t get magically reinstated by the end. No deus ex administration pops out to say the Dean has to let them back in. They cause chaos and go out with a bang, then go on with their lives. That’s a truly great way to end a movie like this.

October 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 590 – Go

Go – October 11th, 2011

When I was in college I rented this movie from work and brought it home to watch while Andy was out. He never watched it with me and I don’t think I’d have rented it for us to watch together. It was very much a late ’90s movie, which is very much the generation I’m supposed to be a part of. To be honest, none of the experiences in this movie are mine or even close to mine. The closest this movie gets to me is that I worked retail and so do some of the main characters, though not the same sort of retail. That’s what I mean. It’s not my experience. Still, I rented it and I watched it and I really liked the conceit of it and the end of it and so when I decided that this movie collection was far too weighted towards what Andy bought, I grabbed it. And if he didn’t like it? Well, I can think of at least ten movies in the collection that he bought that I subsequently hated. So, I wasn’t really all that fussed over the possibility.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t remember absolutely everything about this movie. I knew it was told in three sections and I remembered how bizarre things got at the end and I remembered the rave and substitute drugs at the beginning, but the middle was a blur to me. What I do remember really liking was how you found out more about what was going on in the first story through the other stories. I like non-linear storytelling, though this isn’t quite Pulp Fiction levels of complexity. I think it probably wishes it was, but it’s not. Instead it starts with a scene from the end of the timeline, then follows three different storylines covering the same general timeline, one after the other. Now, my one real issue here is the choice of opening scene. For one, at the end of the movie the plot continues a fair bit past the scene that opens the movie. For two, as a scene to bookend the movie with, it’s sort of a weak one. Which is a shame, because the last section of the movie is the strongest.

Ignoring the bookend scene, which I’ll return to, the movie begins at a grocery store where main character Ronna has been working a double shift on Christmas eve to try and make enough money to pay her rent. If she doesn’t pay, she’s out on the street. On Christmas. When another employee asks her to take his shift so he can go to Vegas that night, she agrees. Then, when a couple of guys at the supermarket ask her if she can get them any drugs she decides hey, that’s a great way to get the money she needs. And what follows is a comedy of errors without much of the comedy part. Ronna’s inexperienced at this and Todd, the guy she’s trying to buy from, knows it. Ronna gets spooked when trying to sell what she’s got and ends up flushing it all. Ronna has to find a way to get back what she spent on the drugs in the first place. Ronna shoplifts asprin and the like from a pharmacy and heads for a rave, passing off cold meds as ecstasy to stoned raver twerps. Todd finds out she’s selling something after telling him she’d had to ditch it all and goes after her with a gun. Ronna gets hit by a car. Ronna? Is not having a good night.

That is how the movie starts. With someone in dire straits making her own life considerably worse by getting in over her head. As you might guess, it’s not my favorite part of the movie. I think I’ve been pretty clear on how I feel about when movies show miserable people making themselves (and others) more miserable. What saves this movie are two things: One, there’s a decent bit of humor in how this all plays out, with some fun dialogue and Ronna’s determined attitude about passing Tylenol off as E. Two, that’s not the whole movie. That bit finishes with Ronna lying in a ditch and things look pretty bleak and then all of a sudden we’re back at the grocery store with Ronna agreeing to take a third shift so her coworker, Simon, can go to Vegas. And so now we’re off to Vegas with Simon.

Simon, unlike Ronna, is not a miserable guy. He’s snarky and obnoxious and full of himself. He’s also pretty obviously a jackass, so I honestly don’t mind when he ends up getting himself in some real shit in Vegas. I do feel for his buddies, two of whom get food poisoning and end up having to flee Vegas while horribly ill. The other buddy I feel even worse for, since he’s with Simon the whole time and ends up right alongside him when Simon feels up a stripper and accidentally shoots a bouncer and so on and so forth. But they get out of Vegas and head back to LA and all seems well. Except for how Simon used a credit card belonging to another friend of his. A friend he usually buys drugs from. Yes, Todd, the same one who threatened Ronna at the end of the first section. Oops for Simon, huh?

And then we’re back at the beginning again, and this is where it gets weird, because we’re not following Todd or Ronna’s friend Claire or really anyone you might think we would. Instead we’re with the two guys who wanted to score some drugs from Simon and asked Ronna instead since Simon’s in Vegas and actually? They’re actors helping out a local cop who’s trying to bust Simon so he can use Simon to bust Todd. And once you’ve gotten to this point, well, a whole lot of little things from the other plots start to make sense even while this one gets stranger and stranger, with mixed up relationships and allegations of cheating and tube socks and Amway-that-isn’t-Amway and naked William Fichtner. Everyone ends up back at the rave again and there’s Ronna and there’s Ronna getting hit by a car and there’s more details about how that even happened and the absurdity of it is really very well done.

My problem here is two-fold: First of all, the three sections fit together well enough in terms of plot, but they’re uneven in tone by quite a lot. Second, if you’re going to go making something like this, it really should all come together right at the end. But this movie keeps going a good deal after we’ve hit the ends of the other plots. Like they were all unfinished and now here’s the end of all three, but there’s no real dividing line there. It feels sloppy. And then there’s the bookend scenes. We start out with Claire in a diner, talking about how she loves surprises on Christmas and how Christmas presents are great since you shake your present and feel it and think you know what it is but you really have no idea and that’s what life is like! Thank you, Claire Gump. Now, I think I get where that was supposed to go, but it’s such a trite way of attempting to describe the movie itself. Very hamfisted. And since the movie continues well past that at the end, it turns out not to be much of a bookend after all. So why bother with it? Overall it’s a fun movie, especially by the time you hit the third chapter. But it’s also messy and sloppily put together.

October 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 588 – Moby Presents: Alien Sex Party

Moby Presents: Alien Sex Party – October 9th, 2011

Let’s just put this right up front: This movie takes place in a porn store. That is the basis of the vast majority of its plot and humor. And music. There are musical numbers. I don’t consider myself a prude by any means, but to be honest I’m a little leery of even trying to review this. There is simply no way to keep it clean. At all. So instead I’ll try to keep it short. And the reason this is bolded is because I want to make it really clear that this movie is about porn and sex and kink. And I don’t want anyone to claim they had no idea before they read any further.

There. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the movie. Except I honestly don’t even know where to begin. Even the basic description I gave my friends doesn’t really cover it but it’s a start. Picture Clerks (and it is heavily referential towards Clerks in the most self-aware way), but set in a porn store in Boston. Now imagine it has musical numbers and it’s set on Christmas eve. Now try and think of people who are more awkward at acting than anyone in Clerks. Toss in an actual porn actress and have Moby involved in producing it and you’ve got this movie.

While watching this movie I had to stop every so often and exclaim to one friend or another (often several in succession) about something that was happening on screen. And not in an ‘ew, gross’ sort of way, because the most graphic stuff that happens on screen is a couple of cats mating (someone’s trying to sell the video to the store owner). Okay, there are some naked breasts and some licking, but otherwise it’s all talk and dildos. And fully clothed pelvic thrusting. But there’s no actual sex on screen. Plenty of talk, but no action. It was more that this movie is full of the sort of bizarre stuff that just makes me squint at the screen and wonder who decided to actually film it.

Around the time three punk musicians (Moby being one of them, I believe) run into the store wearing only their boxers and proceed to play a number called “Fuck Christmas” before trashing the shelves while shouting “RICO’S ROUGHNECKS” I stopped any attempt to make sense of it. I just sort of let it happen and it played itself out, with KY-eating aliens and descriptions of sexual exploits and a porn star singing Feliz Navidad. Which is now stuck in my head. Do you really need more of a description than that? I mean, that should sum things up pretty well right there, one would hope. Except it doesn’t. It really doesn’t. I can’t believe that t doesn’t, but it doesn’t. Because it doesn’t really explain how very low budget this whole operation truly is.

The main characters of the movie are the employees of Amazing Video, an adult video and adult toy store in Boston. There’s Joe, who inherited the store from his late sister. There’s Tina, a sexually adventurous woman who knows pretty much everything about everything the store sells (which is good, as she works there and Joe is totally clueless). There are two security guards who ignore the goings on in the store to crack dirty jokes to each other. And then there’s Adam, Tina’s ex who hangs around the store because they’re still friends. And there’s Grace, who is Joe’s niece. I have no idea why Adam calls Grace ‘Chloe’ several times through the course of the movie. My top two ideas are: Side plot that got cut out or script change after the actor playing Adam had already done his solo shots. I don’t know. I don’t care. The point is that Adam inexplicably calls Grace by another name several times, no one comments on it and it was never fixed in post. And all the main characters I mentioned (and a few I didn’t) are played by people with the same names.

There’s not much of a plot, really. Tina and Adam spend most of the movie arguing about how Tina’s “too overwhelming” for Adam to handle because the sexual things she’s done and sees as no big deal freak him out. Joe has no idea how to deal with anything remotely naughty (including his niece, who is now 18 and whose mother ran the store before, so she’s hardly naive about it all). And a number of customers are hanging out in the store waiting for Dyanna Lauren to show up. There are wacky encounters with customers, like the one who lost all the presents he’d bought for his family and needs “non-pornographic” replacements. And the customer who’s going to blow up the store because he’s never been aroused. The KY-obsessed alien(s) just add weirdness to it all. Oh, and in the beginning there’s a big KY spill, leading to a squishy patch of carpet in front of the counter for the rest of the night. That’s the movie. Plus a visit to the Quick Stop to buy some candy from Dante. Yes, Brian O’Halloran made a cameo.

I don’t think there’s anything else I can say about this movie. I thin I’ve probably already said more than enough. I don’t expect everyone will rush out to buy this and that’s okay. It’s probably mostly amusing to a small subset of the population anyhow. I don’t know if I’d ever want to watch it again. I don’t know if I could. I think once was probably enough. Granted, I did laugh at a good deal of it, but I think it broke me in the process. And I still have Feliz Navidad in my head. I suppose it could be worse.

October 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Alien Sex Party

Alien Sex Party

October 9, 2011

DISCLAIMER!!

This movie contains frank and casual discussion of sex. It takes place in a porn shop that has much in common with a video store Amanda and I once worked at. As a result I somewhat doubt that this review is appropriate for most audiences.

Here’s a movie that I’ll bet not too many people have in their collection. I bought it because it said “Moby Presents” on the box and I really like Moby – and because it was inexpensive and used. I had no idea what on Earth the movie was, but I bought it anyhow. I’m like that sometimes. In this case the results are a little… strange.

This movie wants to be “Clerks” in a porn store. Maybe with a little bit of Empire Records, but mostly it’s a straight take off of Clerks. To such a degree that the characters actually talk about “that movie in the convenience store where all those strange customers come in.” In fact, two of the characters visit the Quick Stop where they have a Kevin Smith style conversation, and where Brian O’Halloran cameos as a clerk whose girlfriend has sucked 37 cocks. At what point does a movie stop being homage and become simply a rip-off? This movie blatantly stomps all over that line. From the title cards to the writing style – there’s even a character named Kevin Smith.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve at Amazing Video at 1258 Boyleston St., which was an actual real place, although I’m not sure if it still exists. Manager Joe (played by Joe Smith, who seems to be trying to channel Rick Moranis, but who is not an actor) is keeping the place open until seven AM on Christmas day for any last minute shoppers, and because porn star Dyanna Lauren (played by herself) is going to be coming in for a signing. He’s inherited the store from his deceased sister and isn’t yet completely comfortable with the merchandise. He has the help of his very enthusiastic clerk Tina (played by Tina Carlucci) and a guy named Adam (played by Adam Sarner – and you may see a pattern forming here.) Throughout the night they have madcap encounters with a variety of wacky customers.

Now I worked for a while in the shipping department of TLA Video and both Amanda and I worked in one of their retail locations – which featured a room full of porn, porn in the sell-through section, and Adult Video News as bathroom reading. We’ve seen some of these wacky customers first hand, and this movie captures that strange sort of fringe of society feeling just perfectly. I took particular pleasure in reading the return policy displayed on the wall behind the Amazing Video counter. It was the same policy TLA had. Defective videos can only be exchanged for the same title, and only with valid receipt and only for legitimate defects. (i.e. you can’t get a replacement copy of your video if the old one won’t work because it is worn out or soaked with lube.) No cash refunds. Just the necessity for that sign brings back so many memories. The sales department at TLA was a small bank of cubicles next to the warehouse, and they had a wall pasted with the most amusing complaints letters they had received. You can imagine what they were like.

So, yeah, this movie and its locale gave me a strange sense of nostalgia. For that I appreciated it. Amazing seems quite well stocked. They have many of the products I remember from the TLA shelves, including the amazing five-inch-diameter butt plug that we in the shipping department just called “The Fire Plug.” That thing means business. The only product I remember from TLA that I didn’t see here is the sex-snorkel – a device that actually exists to allow for cunnilingus without the need to come up for air.

The movie itself is rough and low budget, but has a quirky charm that I quite enjoyed. At a couple points people burst into song, which was odd but still enjoyable. The aforementioned Clerks homage scene simply blew my mind. (How did they get Brian O’Halloran?) If I had made a movie while I was still working at TLA this is the movie I would have made. It’s not brilliantly filmed or well acted or particularly original, but it is funny and enjoyable and even a little heart-warming. And now I have the “You Can Have Sex With Anything” song stuck in my head.

I’m going to have to listen to the director’s commentary someday too.

October 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 587 – Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation – October 8th, 2011

This is one of those movies that I’d been meaning to see but it never seemed like a good time to watch it. There’s a definite atmosphere in it that I think I needed to be in the right mood for. The tone of it is so distinct. You can’t go into this movie if you want something light and funny, but at the same time it’s not entirely serious and somber either. It’s a wistful movie, and I need to be in the right frame of mind for wistful. So while I am glad we watched it tonight, I’m also glad I waited.

It’s kind of amusing to me how much this movie is exactly what the title says. I mean, that’s the whole point right there. You don’t have to do any digging whatsoever to see the connection between the title and the entire movie. Every moment of this movie is informed by the situation of its main characters being pretty much on their own in a country foreign to them in both language and custom. Even their friendship is informed by it. When would they ever have met or connected otherwise? It is a friendship initially formed through the bond of being utterly uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. Because other than that, these two people don’t have a whole lot in common. But what they have in common in terms of interests isn’t really the point. In fact, it’s the opposite of the point. The point is that disparate people in similar circumstances bond together because of those circumstances.

Now, the two main characters, Charlotte and Bob, do share a similar enough sense of humor that they can see the humor in the same things. And that definitely helps. But where Charlotte is an unemployed 20-something tagging along with her new husband while he does photography gigs in Japan, Bob is a 50-something actor, well past his prime and filming whiskey ads for some easy cash while his family is in the US. Their actual interests and hobbies and quirks aren’t explored in any great length. You know that Bob is somewhat cynical and uninterested in home improvements. You know that Charlotte went through a photography stage but doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life. You know that Bob would probably prefer to do a play somewhere than talk about whiskey on Japanese television. You know Charlotte went to Yale and has little patience for shallow people. That about does it. The movie is more about their experiences in Japan than about them.

And it is incredibly effective at showing the experience of being in a place you don’t know and bonding with a person you’d never have otherwise met. I can’t say I’ve had this experience myself. The closest I’ve come was when I decided I’d rather explore London on my own than see the things I wasn’t interested in just to have the company of my classmates. But there was no language barrier there (or at least not enough of one to make it difficult for me to understand people and be understood) and my isolation was self-imposed, not because I was traveling alone or left on my own by others. And yet watching this movie? I felt like I knew this situation. It was so clearly portrayed and communicated that I felt it. Which, I think, is a major accomplishment for a movie. Especially a movie so very spare as this one.

While we watched this, Andy commented on how amused he was that this movie won an Academy Award for its screenplay when there’s really so little dialogue. I can see the humor there. So much of this movie is in the visuals of Bob in the lounge of the hotel or Charlotte alone in her hotel room or the two of them running down the streets of Tokyo after a night spent club hopping. There are some fantastic lines and exchanges, yes, but the actions are what sell the mood and the plot and the whole situation. The thing is, I get it. I’ve never written a screenplay myself, but there’s a reason it’s an award for a screenplay, not a script. Those unspoken moments and dialogue-less scenes don’t just happen out of luck. They’re written to happen the way they happen. The set and the actions and the expressions? I’m sure those were in the screenplay. And that’s fantastic. That the movie can be so effective without every scene being full of dialogue is a testament to how strong its underpinnings are.

I have to include the two lead actors when talking about this movie’s strengths. Bill Murray has done a very nice job indeed of picking and choosing interesting roles in his later career (Garfield notwithstanding). And he is fantastic in the role of Bob. He’s got a dry sense of humor when it comes to the world around him and when it comes to himself. He’s a little lost, but not completely and he knows that. Scarlett Johansson is equally wonderful as the bored and lonely Charlotte. I love that it’s so clear that she loves her husband and that she’s enjoying Tokyo to a point, but is also a little lost and a little frustrated, not just with her situation in a foreign country but with herself for not knowing what to do. And then they mesh so well. I can easily see how it might feel like much of their interactions are simply natural and unscripted. They feel organic together.

I don’t want to belabor this review by going on and on at length about everything. Mostly because I don’t think the movie needs it. This is a quiet and thoughtful movie about an experience. So really the best way to watch it is to let it simply happen and unfold in front of you. It doesn’t need a whole lot of analysis or nitpicking. It’s not that sort of movie. And I appreciate that. I also appreciate that while the specifics of the movie are set in Japan, the message of the movie isn’t so much about Japan specifically as it is about the unfamiliar. Everything unfamiliar. And how much fun it is to explore it but how confusing it can be at the same time. It’s about embracing that unfamiliarity and how much easier that is with someone else to remind you of what is familiar.

October 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 582 – The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums – October 3rd, 2011

You know how you can tell this is a Wes Anderson movie? Because of every single thing in it, from the cast to the characters they play to the story they tell to the set dressing to the camera angles to the soundtrack and score to the titles and chapter cards. It is Wes Anderson from top to bottom. It would be impossible to see it and ascribe it to anyone else out there. I think the only thing missing from it is a panning shot of a diorama-type set. That’s it. It’s really very impressive.

This, like most Wes Anderson movies, is a story about a broken family full of miserable people. The mother is cool and calm and collected but somewhat aloof. The father is wild and unpredictable and has alienated the rest of the family. The kids are adults who have never really let go of their childhoods. The family comes together due to some sort of oddball scheme hatched up by one member or another and since even the best laid plans fall apart and these aren’t even close to the best, things go wrong and there are disasters and arguments and medical emergencies. Eventually, post-crisis or post-crises, there is reconciliation. Of course nothing ends up perfect, but the family comes through a little stronger and a little more aware of themselves and each other.

Yes, I am aware that I just described The Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited and even Fantastic Mr. Fox. Not so much with Rushmore, mostly because I don’t remember it well enough and I don’t recall being all that interested in watching it again. But really, that’s pretty much what Wes Anderson does now. That being said, the particulars are always different and I do enjoy his style, so I’m willing to allow for the same story being told over and over maybe two or three more times. We’ll see what Moonrise Kingdom holds next year. Maybe it will be something completely different! Maybe it won’t have the calm and collected mother. I don’t see Anjelica Huston on the cast list, so it’s possible. I do see Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, however, so who knows. My point is that Wes Anderson is a very gifted storyteller and he has a knack of coming up with odd situations and combinations of characters and making movies that feel like they should be magical realism but aren’t. But he’s become predictable. Fortunately, when I went into this movie he wasn’t predictable yet.

The specifics here are about the Tenenbaum family. The family patriarch is a man named Royal. He’s shown with his family while the children are young, paying somewhat callous attention to the two boys and excluding his daughter. His daughter’s adopted, you see, and he makes certain to tell everyone. Eventually his wife kicks him out and he ends up living at a hotel, being cantankerous and certain he’s the aggrieved party. His children grow up and move away and their mother starts a new career. When Royal is kicked out of the hotel, he concocts a story about being deathly ill in order to convince his wife to let him move back in for a time. One by one the kids come back too until they’re all in the house together, dealing with their issues.

Many of said issues obviously stem from Royal and his relationship to the kids, though not all of them are since the kids started out somewhat idiosyncratic anyhow. Sister Margot has grown up isolated and ended up marrying a man many years her senior. Brother Richie is in love with Margot (it’s okay, she’s adopted, as the movie makes sure you know, over and over) but when she got married he had an epic meltdown in the middle of a tennis match, ending what was a promising pro tennis career. Brother Chas lost his wife in a plane crash and has become paranoid and neurotic about the safety of his two children ever since. They all come home and many of these issues come to a head very quickly. One theme in the movie is that the kids never really grew away from where they began. They move home and into their old rooms and deal with old rivalries. A friend of the family returns and unpleasant truths surface about everyone and it would be silly to go through it all in detail.

The characters in the movie are all these ridiculously quirky people who would seem goofy if they weren’t so miserable and trapped in their quirks. They’re not even super successful. Margot writes plays, but she hasn’t had one in years. Richie hasn’t played tennis since his meltdown and Chas is doing well financially but emotionally he’s a mess. They’re not perfect, which is what I enjoy about Wes Anderson’s characters. They are immensely flawed and interesting because of that not necessarily because of their quirks. They’re also played well. I like the entire cast in this movie. Even if I haven’t always liked them elsewhere, I enjoy them here. All of the kids seem so raw and all of the secondary cast seem so baffled at this bizarre family that is unlike anything else they know.

Wes Anderson tends to have a crisis situation where everyone suddenly has to get serious about what’s going on. In this movie there’s an attempted suicide. And it is striking, with bold colors and no uncertainty as to what’s just happened and why. And it does exactly what it’s meant to do, galvanizing the rest of the family. I will say, much like the other live action examples I can think of, it does not hold back. But more than the others, I find this one difficult to watch. Perhaps it’s that it’s not an accident. Perhaps it’s that it isn’t a death during an emergency. It is a purposeful thing, done by one person to himself and I think it hurts more because of that.

While it is true that one could pop in one of several Wes Anderson movies and see much the same story, enacted by much the same cast, with many of the same quirks and signature notes, I don’t really mind. It would be nice to see him turn out something different and not just keep rehashing this one over and over. Much as I enjoy both The Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited and much as I adore Anderson’s version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I have to wonder why the same story? He got it right here, as far as I’m concerned.

October 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 575 – Clerks

Clerks – September 26th, 2011

I think I’ve mentioned before that we have some truly bizarre holes in our collection. Like Fargo, though we’ve since filled that hole. This was another hole, made even stranger by the fact that we owned Mallrats. I mean, I enjoy Mallrats and all, but I enjoy this more. How could we not own it? So we ordered it, and by accident Andy ordered the Blu-ray version. Now, eventually I’m sure we’ll have a Blu-ray player hooked up to our television, but for now we have two choices: The PS3 in the living room on the large but old CRT in there, or Andy’s laptop. So, laptop it was tonight. Fortunately it’s got a nice big screen and he doesn’t mind a movie monopolizing it for an hour and a half.

This movie came out when I was in high school and it wasn’t long after it came out that I started working in a video store. I saw it soon after and well, it’s not as close to my experience as Empire Records is, but there’s a sense of service industry ennui that’s present through the whole movie. Granted, it’s very much a pop culture collage, but it’s also meant to be commentary on the lives of the people who accumulate that sort of pop culture knowledge. About the people of the generation who pay attention to that particular pop culture time frame. I’m not quite the right generation. I’m a couple of years behind, but not behind enough to be in the next one. This movie still resonates with me.

It is a movie with a simple premise: A day in the life of convenience store clerk Dante Hicks, who gets called into work on his day off. His “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” is oft quoted by myself and Andy and I suspect many others. Dante hates his job, hates the things he has to deal with in his job, and seems to want to do something else. But he also lacks the drive to do anything about it, simply accepting each new indignity with vocal protest but no action to back it up. Which is really his whole character arc, but without specifics like the ex-girlfriend who accidentally has sex with a corpse in the convenience store bathroom. Which is sort of the movie in a nutshell: It’s a simple premise in which bizarre things happen but which seem not to faze the characters as much as one might expect.

It’s rather episodic, really. And that seems intentional, since various sections of the movie have title cards displayed before them. But within each section are little episodes. They’re not quite vignettes. They’re just moments. We meet Dante and along with him we find out that someone’s jammed gum into the padlocks that open the screens over the front of the store. We watch him get accosted by a gum salesman who rallies smokers against him and we meet his girlfriend (who disperses the mob by emptying a fire extinguisher at them). We meet his friend Randall, who works at the video store next door and clearly does not give even a quarter of a shit. Through the course of the day we get to know Dante and his many and sundry issues.

First of all, Dante is in this dead end job he hates. Why does he hate it? He hates it because people treat him like dirt and he’s not even getting paid well to make up for it. Second of all, Dante has a nice solid relationship with his girlfriend, Veronica, but he’s still got a thing for his ex, Caitlin Bree. Third of all, he’s not even supposed to be there today! He’s got hockey! Really, Dante’s problem is inertia. Never in the movie is it suggested that Dante has any roadblocks to going back to school aside from a lack of interest. Which might be disingenuous if one took it as a commentary on all people his age at the time the movie was made, but I’ve never seen it that way. I’ve always seen it as a commentary on a very specific group, as represented by Dante. And Randall, because he sure as hell doesn’t seem interested in getting out of the small town they live in or getting a better job. Not just then, anyhow. The difference between the two is that Randall is self-aware and Dante isn’t. According to the trivia, the reason Randall is such a smartass with all the good lines and major insights is that Kevin Smith wrote the part for himself.

In amongst all the serious commentary on Dante’s life and how mired in his own problems he is, there’s a boatload of pop culture commentary. There’s a whole conversation (well known by now) about whether the rebuilding of the Death Star in The Return of the Jedi would have involved independent contractors and if so, whether those contractors were innocent victims of the Rebellion’s attack. These conversations are often just between Dante and Randall but they spread out to the customers too. They also comment on the nature of working in retail, talking about the vagaries of customers. They pause in their work to play hockey, to go to a wake, and to have a knock-down drag-out brawl in the snack aisle. And through it all we also get snippets of Jay and Silent Bob, two drug dealers who hang out outside the store and accost people who walk by. It is a bizarre mish-mash of scenes that cover all sorts of things, but which hang together due to the location and conceit of the movie.

The whole thing is filmed in black and white, which personally, I like. I’ve never minded black and white movies, even modern ones. When done purposefully they can look really good. While I know the major reason for it here was because Smith was working with a severely limited budget and didn’t have the money to do color correction on color stock with different lighting sources, I think it also would have looked messy otherwise. The movie was filmed in an actual convenience store. This isn’t a set. It’s a real place, which comes with the issue that you can only do so much set dressing. They filmed at night while the store was closed, so the place needed to be usable the next day after filming without too much fuss. Picture your local independent convenience store, with hand written notes and a counter full of point-of-sale displays in eye-popping colors and racks of stock behind the counter. Now imagine watching that on screen for two hours, because that’s where Dante is for much of the movie.

Now, this movie isn’t pure unadulterated brilliance from start to finish. The cast is clearly unpolished and every so often the writing is a bit too self-aware. It was made on a shoestring budget (for a movie) and you can tell. But it’s also a very strong movie in general, which makes the obvious low-budget issues matter less to me. Maybe it’s my retail background, but then too, a whole lot of people my age and around my age have backgrounds in retail. Even if the pop culture gets a little stale, which it inevitably will, the general idea will remain fairly solid for a little more time, at least. And that’s what sells this movie.

September 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment