A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 506 – Rango

Rango – July 19th, 2011

I will straight up admit to wanting to see this movie largely because of its marketing. If it had just been advertised as a CG kids film Western parody then eh, I might have seen it eventually or I might have given it a pass. Sure, it has Johnny Depp and he’s always good for a laugh, but I don’t go out of my way for Westerns and it just might not have seemed like it was anything super special. Except for the marketing, which played up how the recording for the voice acting was done, which looked like a blast. Unlike the recording booths I assume much voice acting is done in, this movie was recorded with the cast on a rudimentary set, interacting and wearing costume pieces and using props. Acting out the physical actions for the scenes they were recording for. And that just sucked me right in.

Now, we watched this on our regular DVD player and the regular DVD copy we have has nothing in the way of special features. And that is a crying shame because what I have seen of the filming done during the voice recording sessions is fascinating and I would love to have the option for a split screen (or something similar) between the animated movie and the recording sessions. It just seems like so much fun, with all the actors cavorting and playing around and acting out these things that aren’t meant to be physical. Seeing Bill Nighy act out the part of Rattlesnake Jake is just fantastic. But alas, that option doesn’t exist. We’ll have to pull out the PS3 and check the Bluray version at some point. Fortunately, even without such gimmicks the movie stands up.

It’s a Western. Let’s just put that out there and I will admit that I enjoyed it. In fact, in light of this and a few other things I’ve noted in some past reviews, I think I might have to revisit my position on Westerns. I still don’t think I’m much of a John Wayne gal, but I’ll give Eastwood a go. I’ve absorbed enough of the tropes at this point that it really would be a shame not to put them in their proper context. And I shouldn’t let an enforced viewing of The Searchers while I had a 100 degree fever color my attitude towards an entire genre, I’m sure. Some day I’ll tell that story, but it won’t be in a review for The Searchers. I’ll give Westerns a go. I’ll spend the rest of this review effusing about this particular Western. But The Searchers will always remind me of fever chills and misery and resentment. That being said, this movie is about as far from that as possible.

Sure, some of it seems like a fever dream! But that’s intentional and a heck of a lot more fun than an actual fever. It’s the story of a chameleon who finds himself bounced out of his terrarium and stranded in a desert environment he is utterly unfamiliar with. In his quest for water he finds a town, the town of Dirt, and thanks to his penchant for acting (and he is a chameleon, after all) he spins enough wild tales to impress the locals. When he lucks into winning a match against a hawk he’s made sheriff. And that’s when the real trouble starts, because now he has to live up to all the tales he’s told and stories he’s spun because Dirt has more problems than a hawk hanging around and some rough and tumble critters in the saloon.

Dirt is drying up. Less and less water in the bank. Less and less water out of the giant spigot. Things are getting dire and now Rango is the one the people of Dirt are looking to for help. And he has no damn clue what to do. He knows how to act like he knows what to do, but faced with actual problems and the need for true action, he manages to muck it up every which way. Of course. And of course you know eventually he’ll have an epiphany and figure out what to do and somehow save the day with something clever and unexpected. I mean, this movie is unique in many ways but the basic plot arc isn’t one of them.

There are two things that really set this movie apart from others of its ilk: The animation, which is gorgeous, and the script, which is funny and tight and performed brilliantly. I suspect that the latter is a combination of good writing and the aforementioned recording sessions. Every clip I’ve seen from them shows people collaborating in a way that feels almost like an acting workshop, but since it’s the sound they need, they can edit around bits they don’t want or need. The animation would follow from that too, as I believe it was done after a lot of the recording, with the actions of the cast used as reference points. The visual standards for the animation are high anyhow, with some lovely detailing done in the textures and backgrounds. I found Rattlesnake Jake, in particular, to look fantastic. And this is coming from an ophidiophobe.

Still, I do credit the writing even without the different take on voice recording. It’s a fun script that doesn’t break any new ground plot-wise but does take advantage of all of the tropes before it. There’s narration for the movie performed by a troupe of birds in mariachi outfits, playing music and telling the story but also being inside the story, coughing as dust is kicked up by the animals riding by, which they’re singing about at the time. Every little nuance of the movie, all the jokes based on the setting, they’re all clearly homage and parody both. When Rango announces that he and his posse are going to ride out! Well, that’s a moment of homage to dozens of movies. When he realizes he has no idea where he’s riding to? That’s parody. And it’s all nicely done and well-matched with the animals-as-characters concept, mixing jokes on the setting with the inevitable issues of scale.

I’m also quite pleased to say that while there is a bit of a message to the movie, which is inevitable in a movie about a town in the middle of a drought, it’s not shaped like an anvil or a sledgehammer. The movie is about what the movie is about: An unlikely hero growing into his heroism. And along the way there are messages about the environment and greed and growth at the expense of people’s lives and livelihoods. And it’s all really nicely done. It’s a fun movie and a funny movie and it’s incredibly gorgeous visually and really, my only complaint is the lack of special features on the DVD, which isn’t a complaint about the movie itself so please pay it no mind.

July 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 449 – Kill Bill vol. 2

Kill Bill vol. 2 – May 23rd, 2011

I’ve always felt it odd that this movie and last night’s were meant to be a single film. And from what I’ve read the decision to split the story into two parts came late in the game, which means a ton of it had been filmed. So I have to wonder if they’d been laid out yet. The episodic nature of them certainly would allow for some mixing and matching and the movies both play with timelines, so it’s entirely possible that had it been one long movie things might have been paced differently. I don’t know. I’m not Tarantino. As it stands, however, this movie just plain feels different than the first one and with good reason.

While we watched this evening I tried to explain how I saw the differences to a friend who’s not as familiar with the movies. I ended up having to list the important moments and plot points in the two and what I came up with was that where the first one is a barrage of choreographed fight scenes where the Bride is a vengeful badass, the second one spends a lot more time listening to what she has to say instead of watching what she has to do. We got our introduction to her as a deadly assassin in the first movie. We get our introduction to her as a person in this one. And I find that interesting. This movie isn’t as focused on the vengeance as it is on the Bride herself. The character, not the plot. And I’ve got to say I rather like that because I like that the Bride is a person here, not just a killing machine. And really, that’s part of the point of the background we get for her.

This movie is episodic, like the first one was, but while the episodes are announced by title card and all they don’t feel so clearly delineated. They bleed into each other more. They’re rougher around the edges. At the same time, I still get the feeling that this movie could have been split up and shown as a serial before other movies in the theater and Tarantino’s the sort of guy who I think would get a kick out of that. But the rougher splits between the sections definitely affect the feel and flow of the movie. So too do the locales used. Instead of the sleek scenery of Tokyo and the suburban settings of the first movie we get rural Texas and a remote temple in China and overgrown haciendas in Mexico. Everything feels isolated and out of the way. Off the beaten path. The people in it are rougher. Instead of Vernita in her soccer mom duds and manicured lawn we get Budd in his old bowling shirt and trailer in the desert. It’s a more intimate world our heroine has gotten to.

Of course, she’s still looking for Bill. And Bill knows she’s coming and he’s warned the remnants of the old gang. Now, I find the dynamics here interesting. Budd’s clearly had a falling out with his brother, Bill. He’s left the assassination squad and works as a bouncer in a strip club that never seems to have any customers. That’s a pretty long way to fall and we’re never given the exact reason. In fact, it seem the only member of the crew still working with Bill is Elle Driver. It’s implied in the first movie that Vernita got out around when she herself got pregnant (her girl’s about the same age as our heroine’s would be, so it stands to reason she didn’t stick around) and O-Ren’s gone on to bigger things. Elle’s apparently trying to take the Bride’s place as Bill’s favorite, which apparently never quite worked out, and then there’s Budd. Why did he leave? What did he argue with Bill about? Was it the attack in the chapel? He clearly has some remorse over it, but he’s also not about to sacrifice himself in the name of penance. He’s a scumbag who knows he’s a scumbag and lives with it. He’s a fascinating character and Michael Madsen plays him well.

Elle Driver is the other baddie here. She’s a far less in-control version of our heroine. The version who wanted all the things our heroine has and had but can’t quite manage it. She can’t quite get Bill. She couldn’t get the sword. She couldn’t get the training. She doesn’t deserve it and she hates that and therefore hates our heroine with a vicious and fiery passion. We never get much in the way of background for her, much like we don’t get much in the way of background for Uma Thurman’s character. Daryl Hannah plays Elle as a fact-obsessed sociopath and she does so with relish. Watching them face off together is one of my favorite moments in the movie. It’s a far less polished fight scene than anything in the first movie, but that’s the point. And we get to see just how much better our heroine is. Of course.

One of the other things I love about this movie is the training sequence with kung fu master Pai Mei. He’s a fantastic classic kung fu master, though not of the type who appears to be a regular every day guy. He lives in a temple on a mountain, all by himself, and teaches things like how to punch through wood with only three inches of clearance and how to pluck an eyeball out and how to kill someone with pressure points. But only after one has gained his trust and respect, which is, of course, a grueling task. There’s some great character development for the Bride here, long before she put on a wedding dress. Not only do we see that determination has always been one of her strong suits, but that she was enthusiastic at one point, and thoroughly enamoured of Bill. Watching her with Bill as he tells her a story about Pai Mei while they sit at a campfire is a fantastic look into her life before it all fell apart. Watching her with Bill outside the chapel even closer to the crucial pivot point in their lives is similar. You can see the relationship between the two of them and a level of understanding that wasn’t apparent in the first movie. I like how that’s expanded upon well before we get to Bill at the end of the movie here.

The thing is, the movie spends a lot of time on all these relationships. As I said early on, this is a movie that is more concerned with the character than the plot. We finally learn her name, though I’m still not sure why it was buzzed out all through the first one and into the beginning of this one. It’s not a particularly impressive reveal. It just is. Anyhow. We get to know her, and that takes a lot more talking and non-actiony interactions between characters. It’s not an entirely stationary movie but it ambles instead of zooms.

By the time we hit the end and we see Bill and Beatrix (yep, that’s her name) and little B.B. we know why Beatrix left the group and we know why Bill killed off the whole wedding party, including the organist, and we know that the two of them had something. And now it’s gone. It was inevitable. While I could quibble over the pacing of the movie (I think it could have benefited from a little more editing) and I didn’t really need to see Budd at work at the strip club to understand where he is in his life (I’d rather have seen more of Elle’s life), overall I rather like this movie. It’s an odd marriage between it and the first part, but it still deals with vengeance. It’s just moved beyond what Beatrix is willing to do to get to Bill and moved on to what she’s willing to endure. And Uma Thurman carries off every moment, from the steely focus on beating her opponents to the determination to gain Pai Mei’s respect to the grinning protege to a brutal killer to the weeping mother finally reunited with her child. It’s a fantastic performance and she ties the movie together, episode by episode, to make a whole.

May 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 448 – Kill Bill vol. 1

Kill Bill vol. 1 – May 22nd, 2011

I’ve got mixed feelings when it comes to Quentin Tarantino. I think he’s a brilliant guy who knows movies like few other people do. He has a recognizable aesthetic and he can do homage and reference while keeping the result distinctly his own. He has a good eye and an excellent ear and hearing him talk about movies it’s clear just how much he loves watching them, absorbing them and then making his own. And that’s all great. But he’s also got an ego the size of Jupiter and he can get so wrapped up in his own cleverness and image and reputation that things get overdone. Death Proof lowered him a lot in my eyes, but I have to reconcile it with this movie, which is an entirely different creature. So, like I said, mixed feelings.

This is probably one of the most obvious revenge quest movies I can think of. There’s no attempt to disguise it and that’s the point of the whole thing, that it’s righteous and bad-assed. There is never any question of who you should root for here. The Bride, whose name is omitted whenever it’s spoken, is your hero. She’s been put through hell and she’s going to get her revenge and if you’re not going to help her then she’s going to ignore you and if you hurt her then you’re as good as dead. She was beaten and shot on her wedding day, pregnant and trying to escape her former life as an assassin. We meet her as she tells the man shooting her – Bill – that it’s his baby. Just before he shoots her in the head. Now that? That is some potent backstory for a revenge plot.

I like how this movie is put together. Sure, starting out by going forward in time and then back is a bit of a gimmick but I don’t really mind. The Bride makes a list of people she needs to kill and we meet the second one first, but it’s a fast bit of action, all things considered, and it serves to introduce the character’s skills, lack of weaknesses and a good amount of her background. We hear she would have had a daughter. We get a bit about the assassination squad she was part of. We see a lot here, including action and a good amount of blood (but nowhere near as much as we will see). So I like it as an introduction. And by the time the movie ends we know what the Bride’s already been up to before she even got there.

It’s a fairly episodic movie. Yes, we see the last episode first, but otherwise it’s all clearly delineated by location. She starts in Texas, she wakes up in the hospital, she goes to Okinawa, she goes to Tokyo, she comes back to the US. Each section is well defined and within the section in Japan we get a complete style change to animation to show the backstory of one of her opponents: O-Ren Ishii. Now, the animation and storytelling there? I’m not so keen on. I can see its purpose, but it seems to be there more because Tarantino thought it would be cool than because it’s necessarily required for the plot. I’m not sure I care enough about O-Ren to see her childhood trauma and her own revenge story. And the animated style of it defines it as not a part of the rest of the movie’s storyline, but it also serves to separate it out and keep it from fitting into the movie as well as it should. And I find that frustrating. Whereas the rest of the episodes in the movie fit together as part of the Bride’s story, O-Ren’s doesn’t. It’s there for style more than substance. But that’s sort of how I see Tarantino: He has the potential for such fantastic substance, but gets distracted by style sometimes.

The other thing I really like about this movie, aside from the excellent cinematography and directing and all those things I expect from a Tarantino film, is that it’s not wall to wall violence. Oh sure, once the fight scenes start they’re relentless – as they should be – but there are other scenes where there’s little to no violence whatsoever. Specifically there’s the Hattori Hanzo scenes. Those are some fantastic bits that serve both as homage, with Sonny Chiba playing a role that’s a clear reference to a television show from the 80s, as well as character development for the Bride. She’s not a mindless assassin who uses a sword because it’s cool. She has a reverence for it and for its history. And it shows here. It’s a nice bit of quiet in a movie full of noise and I appreciate the pause it creates in the middle. It’s sort of a calm before the storm that is to come in the teahouse later on when she faces off with O-Ren and her gang.

This movie? Is not for young audiences. In fact, I’m impressed that the tricks that were used to land it an R instead of an NC-17 actually worked. And it gets shown on television! Every so often I flip past it and I usually pause to watch for a little while because I enjoy it quite a bit. But oh is it funny how it gets altered to make it “safe” for television. I’m often amused by these things (when we review The Breakfast Club I’ll share my favorite example) but this one is up there near the top of my list. I can’t speak to exactly how much blood and gore gets removed, but the most noticeable change is that “pussy wagon” is changed to “party wagon” and the line “My name is Buck and I’m here to fuck” gets changed to “My name is Buck and I’m here to party.” As if that at all hides the fact that Buck’s been selling her body while she was comatose. And there’s just something so ridiculous about trying to clean up this movie by changing the terminology but not the content.

Aside from the animated section I really feel that this is a tightly put together movie with a clear idea of where it’s going and what it wants to do and how it’s going to do it all. The Bride is a strong character, willing to do whatever it takes to get to Bill and kill him and take down the rest of her former teammates as she goes. Sure, she’s had horrible things happen to her, but the movie doesn’t seem to delight in showing them to us, which is a huge difference for me from Death Proof (also a revenge story but one in which the revenge cannot be enacted by those harmed the most because the movie just had to show how much they were harmed). The Bride faces off with a number of other strong characters, ones who have lives and backgrounds of their own and who can certainly go toe to toe with her. It’s paced well, populated well, written well. It’s full of darkly humorous lines in the midst of the revenge. And all the homage and reference are combined well to make it something different. I honestly think it stands fairly well on its own, but it’s only part one and ends on a cliffhanger, so we’ll have to finish talking about it tomorrow.

May 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 317 – Volcano High

Volcano High – January 11th, 2011

My first exposure to this movie was through MTV. For some reason they decided to do a recut of the movie, altering the plot and dubbing new lines in with the voice acting done by American rappers. They played it several times back when they first did it and eventually I saw the whole thing. And I liked it, but found it a little choppy. Only when I went looking for a copy to buy did I find out that it had been so very heavily edited. And so we got the regular version, in Korean, with English subtitles. And I liked it even more. I’ve heard it described as a polarizing movie that people either love or hate and I definitely fall under the former category.

I’m not sure what it is about this movie that makes me love it so, but love it I do. It’s utterly ridiculous, but that’s the point. It’s supposed to be this outrageous martial arts magic fest, full of over the top characters and tropes and plenty of fight scenes. There is no doubt in my mind that the folks who made this movie did so with their tongues firmly in their cheeks. Which is fantastic. It’s got a sort of serious mystical plot to it, but it’s also got a hell of a sense of humor running through everything. And while I did enjoy the strange MTV adaptation of the story, I like the more complete version better.

The movie takes place at Volcano High, an elite school where many of the students are extremely skilled martial artists. The thing is, they’re not studying martial arts. They’re mostly just high school students. And while there is a judo team and a kendo team and so on, there’s also a weightlifting team and a rugby team. And the main characters are spread out in a variety of after school activity groups. Sure, they’re kickass martial artists, but that’s sort of made out to be a matter of course. The various activity groups have a bit of a rivalry, with the weightlifting team – the Dark Oxen, led by the minor baddie Jang Ryang – being the de facto bullies. But all seems fairly even keeled, if a little uneasy, under the watchful eye of Song Hak-Rim, the best martial artist in the school.

It all comes crashing down the day our hero, super powerful but also super dorky Kim Kyeong-Su, shows up. He’s been expelled from eight schools already thanks to a total lack of control over his powers, and he’s determined not to blow this last chance, even if it means letting all sorts of chaos go on. Jang Ryang and the vice principal of the school set up Song Hak-Rim to be framed for the poisoning of the principal, who is also the keeper of an ultra powerful secret manuscript. The vice principal turns on Jang Ryang almost immediately, bringing in five sinister teachers who quickly take control of the school by means of their own martial arts skills and mystical powers. Realizing that he’s been abandoned, Jang Ryang throws in his lot with the other students and eventually there’s a big showdown in the schoolyard (in the rain) between Jang Ryang, Kim Kyeong-Su and the captain of the Kendo team, Yu Chae-i and the teachers.

Throughout the movie Yu Chae-i and her co-captain, Shim Ma, try to enlist Kim Kyeong-Su’s help. They know he’s got major skills and they know if he joined them they’d have the strength they need to rescue Song Hak-Rim and overthrow the vice principal and his cadre of evil teachers. But Kim-Kyeong-Su won’t do it. Ever since he got his mystical powers during a lightning storm when he accidentally fell into a tank of eels (yes, really) he’s been unable to control them and it’s caused him nothing but grief. So no, even though the school is in chaos and the new teachers are threatening students and his crush, Yu Chae-i, wants his help? Nope. He’s just going to do his thing and get by. It’s so outrageous it has to have been written to make fun of the concept. By the time the big climactic battle hits you know damn well what’s coming. It’s just funny.

The movie has this bizarre mix of thoroughly serious and utter parody. I mean, it’s not just slapstick or done for giggles. It’s done as homage, so there’s some care put into it all. But then the names are all presented seriously and the teachers are too and it’s all so very serious that it’s not serious at all anymore. Unfortunately for me, I think there’s likely a whole other level of humor and parody and homage going on but I’m not familiar enough with the source genre to catch it. I also don’t understand Korean and I don’t know the culture well enough to catch referenced and linguistic tricks. There’s a lot of what sounds like nonsense sometimes. Non sequitors that might still be disconnected to the plot in the original version but I have no way of knowing. I can say that the romantic subplot is a little oddly shoehorned in, but not enough so to turn me off the movie. And I like how Jang Ryang joins the other students and the whole idea of the students coming together against a common enemy after spending much of the beginning of the movie bickering. So I’m willing to put up with some missing scenes and things I don’t get because it’s so very much fun anyhow.

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

Movie 287 – Austin Powers in Goldmember

Austin Powers in Goldmember – December 12th, 2010

And so we come to the end of our Austin Powers weekend. I’ve got to say I think this one is my favorite. Bizarre, I know, but it has two connected storylines I love and it has Michael Caine. Seriously, how could I not love Michael Caine? Anyhow, it has some bits I like, a fun female lead, some time travel, some flashbacks and sharks with frikkin laser beams on their heads. What’s not to like? Aside from more Fat Bastard and the titular Goldmember?

No, I still don’t like Fat Bastard here. I gave my reasons why yesterday and they still apply here. As for Goldmember, I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be creepy and discomfiting. I’m almost 100% certain that’s his point in the movie. He eats his own skin flakes and has a gold fetish and an awkward high pitched laugh. And I don’t know, I just find him more cringe-inducing than funny. He has a line or two, but mostly he’s just bizarre. Fortunately, like the first movie and the second movie, the bits I find unfunny are outnumbered by the bits I find hilarious.

Now, by the third movie it’s fairly clear that Dr. Evil will come up with a convoluted plan to take over the world and Austin Powers will thwart him somehow. A new sexy female companion for Austin will show up at some point and a new villain sidekick will show up too. Puns will be made, sex will be talked about, nostalgia-based references and humor will abound. And so it goes here. Except Austin thwarts Dr. Evil in the beginning, right at the outset, and is knighted for his efforts, bringing in a family plot that I love. Austin’s father skips the knighting ceremony, setting off a wave of daddy issues for Austin. Eventually Dr. Evil and Mini Me escape from jail and then the movie goes as expected, with Austin gaining his new companion, Foxy Cleopatra, from the 1970s, and Dr. Evil gaining Goldmember from the same time period.

It’s the family stuff I really enjoy here. Austin and his father, Scott Evil and Dr. Evil. They’re great combinations of characters and casting and when everything comes to a head and Scott goes full on Evil it’s just perfect. I love Seth Green as Scott and he does a great character arc here, from Dr. Evil’s skeptical son to the heir to the family business (that would be the business of evil). He even gets his father sharks with frikkin’ laser beams. It’s fantastic. And then there’s Austin and his father, played fantastically by Michael Caine. Adding to all of that are some flashbacks to Austin and Dr. Evil (as well as Number 2 and Basil Exposition) all at school together as boys. It’s great fun and some good humorous character development for a comedy.

Of course there are the usual dick jokes and sex jokes and poop jokes and puns and fourth wall breaking gags (like the unreadable subtitles that Austin messes up). It’s that sort of movie. And it’s not at all unexpected. Verne Troyer is still great as Mini Me (and I love his fight scene with Austin) and Robert Wagner is still great as Number 2. I still like Michael York as Basil and I actually really like Beyonce Knowles as Foxy. The meta opening, with the Austin Powers movie opening being filmed by Stephen Spielberg, is a fantastic bit of inanity full of cameos, and if you look close you can spot two actors from Heroes in small roles. So really, I can handle two characters I’m not fond of. Just like in the other movies, there’s enough funny to block them out and keep me laughing.

December 12, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 285 – Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Tonight we looked over our list and did some counting and some poking at planned movies and realized two things: 1. Over half of our remaining movies are under two hours long, and 2. We’ve managed to put together a total of twelve days of Christmas movies without realizing the number. So we’ll be doing those starting on Tuesday and tonight we could pick something on the shorter side if we wanted. And we did. Something fun and familiar and easy to watch that wouldn’t leave us scrambling to write reviews in a couple of minutes before midnight.

There are a good many things I’m not particularly fond of in this movie, but a number of them can be superficially chalked up as things I’m not supposed to be fond of. I’m not in the mood to go analyzing too deeply, so I’ll keep this brief. Austin Powers is somewhat loathsome. He’s rude, ignorant and casually sexually harasses every attractive woman he meets (the unattractive ones are either ignored or assumed to be men in disguise and punched, which has its own inherent problems). And on one hand, he’s obviously a caricature. He’s a swinging sixties hipster used to free love and an entirely different time period and set of social rules, displaced into modern society where those rules are not at all the same. And that’s part of the humor. That he’s so outrageously blunt about his libido and has no clue how offensive he is. Part of it is also that, let’s face it, he’s not Sean Connery or any other super spy from the sixties. It’s laughable that he was able to get away with it all in his own decade anyhow. But then again, even though we’re supposed to find him crude and unappealing, we’re also clearly supposed to be charmed by him anyhow. And I’m not so much.

So, it’s a good thing there’s a whole ton of fantastic humor in this movie that doesn’t require me to be charmed by Austin Powers’ sexual misconduct. And really, a lot of his other gags are funny. There’s some fantastic humor here, with the totally bald-faced references to spy movie tropes like Dr. Evil flat out stating that he’s going to kill Austin in an overly-complicated way and not watch even though it means he could escape. There are jokes made about character names, typical roles, costumes, etc. And then there’s some great physical humor, such as Austin attempting to turn a little electric cart around in a narrow hallway. Austin’s acclimation to the 1990s is full of obvious jokes, like putting a CD on a turntable, but they’re played out amusingly enough to get a chuckle from me.

Really, my favorite humorous part of the movie is the interactions between Dr. Evil and his son, Scott. Now, Dr. Evil is played by Mike Myers, same as Austin Powers. Myers is a mixed bag for me. I like some of his stuff and then other things make me cringe at the very concept. And while Austin himself falls more into the latter than the former, I do love Dr. Evil. He’s a fantastic parody of a super villain and he’s also been thrown for a bit of a loop by the social differences since the sixties. Except instead of being mystified by the lack of psychedelic drugs he’s shocked to find that one million dollars is small change now. And Dr. Evil also has a son he’s never met. Scott was artificially created in a lab and only just now meeting his father, what with Dr. Evil having been frozen for thirty years to try and escape Austin Powers. And Scott, played by Seth Green, is fantastic. He’s bitter about his absent father, freaked out that said father is trying to kill him (no, really, but he’s wily like his old man!), and utterly baffled by the spy movie tropes his father insists on following. The best exchange in the movie is near the end, after Dr. Evil has explained his convoluted plan to kill Austin and his partner, Agent Vanessa Kensington, with ill-tempered mutated sea bass. Scott offers to shoot them. Dr. Evil is having none of it. And it’s fantastic. Seth Green and Mike Myers have this fantastic rapport in the scene and it plays out brilliantly. It’s a perfect example of the humor of this movie, where the ridiculousness of classic spy movies is shown for what it is.

The other thing I love about this movie is that while I’m not a Bond aficionado by any means (I know more about Bond through cultural osmosis than any other means), I am a fan of another spy staple from the 1960s: The Avengers. There’s a reason why we don’t own the monstrosity that was the modern movie adaptation of the classic series and that reason is that I’m a huge fan of the series. I wanted to be Emma Peel when I grew up. I still do, to be honest. And there are some clear callbacks to the show in this movie. Vanessa and her mother (Mrs. Kensington, Austin’s original partner from the 60s) have an Emma Peelish quality to them. The leather catsuits they wear could have come straight out of the costumes from the show. And I like that there’s a distinct feeling of homage here, not just to the Bond movies and The Avengers but to the whole genre. They’re the sorts of things that couldn’t exist now as they did then, which is largely the point. To have them exist now they’d really have to change their whole moods. And so I like this movie, despite its flaws, because there’s enough well done humor and references to make it worth it for me.

December 10, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 240 – Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow – October 26th, 2010

The only excuse I can come up with for not having seen this before is that until this project, I wasn’t making time in my days to watch movies and I’d never come across it on television. It has a few actors I really enjoy watching (Jude Law and Angelina Jolie) and the mood is this great mix of noir ambiance, adventure serial and steampunk timeline. Oh, and it’s got Bai Ling. How could I resist? And yet I’d never seen it. I’d only heard the title and heard the Futurama “Welcome to the WOOOOOOOOORLD of TOMORROW!” line in my head and never bothered to put it in. So very foolish of me.

According to IMDB, it was, at one point, envisioned as a serial, in the vein of Commando Cody and Undersea Kingdom, which makes perfect sense to me, since my first reaction to Sky Captain himself was to think of Commando Cody. Fortunately for Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan, he doesn’t have to tweak his nipple knobs to take to the sky. No, he gets a good old airplane to zip around in. There is a jet pack in the movie, but a more awesome character gets it. Everything about this movie is homage to the classic adventure serials and movies and comics of the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s. It’s got giant robots (some with awesome tentacle arms), an island full of dinosaurs, a mad scientist, a rocket that will incinerate Earth, a plucky and brash reporter and a dashing and brusque pilot, a genius sidekick and a mysterious villain! It’s got explosions and daring chases and evil plots that stretch around the world. It is everything a pulpy serial could ever want, filmed entirely in bluescreen and starring some big name actors.

Now, I mentioned noir above and the movie certainly has a noir-ish feel to it. Part of it is the overall lighting effects and visual style of the movie, as well as the time period. But it’s also got its opening scenes, with a mysterious package being delivered to reporter Polly Perkins. Her whole introduction feels like something out of a murder mystery smack in the middle of the 1940s, except soon enough there are giant robots in the streets of New York and Sky Captain himself is introduced in his plane, shooting the robots and seemingly saving the day. Hooray Sky Captain! Of course it turns out that Polly and Joe have some history together and of course they need each other to discover what’s been going on with the giant robots and seven missing scientists. So off they go, racing to Nepal to save their mechanical genius friend, Dex, who’s been kidnapped by the robots and taken off to the source of robots’ commanding signal. Adventures abound, as does snarky banter between Polly and Joe.

To be honest, I could have done with a little less period-authentic attitude from Joe. I want to like my heroes, not spend more than a handful of moments in the movie wanting to slap him for being an ass. And Polly’s fine much of the time, but she had her moments too. Really, they deserve each other. Good thing there’s more to like about them than dislike. Polly’s stubborn and certainly brave, if not always thinking ahead about what her bravery will do. Joe’s very good at what he does, which is flying mostly, but also being a hero, which is kind of the point. But they both come across as the sort of people who get into trouble and then get out of it through their own determination and wits. I like that sort of thing in a character (or two). So I can forgive the misogyny, or at least cheer when a certain crack pilot gets punched later on.

After reading that there’d been at least some thought about making this a serial, I started paying attention to it that way and I can see it. There are some episodic bits, going from place to place, plot point to plot point, crisis to crisis. But really, it all flows very nicely. It feels cohesive, and has a great overarching plot that ties everything together. No, it’s not anything astounding that will make you gasp or surprise you in any way, but that’s not the point. Going into this, you’re supposed to expect the mad scientist planning on destroying Earth. That’s a given. Very little here is shocking at all. But fun? Oh yes. The huge flying airstrips (where we meet Angelina Jolie’s Franky), the tentacle-armed robots, the tiny elephant? All fun. Same for the plot and the script. It’s the sort of movie that makes you grin because it’s so obviously in love with its source material and thrilled to be presenting it in a new light.

Given how this movie was made, with the blue screen work and all, and its main cast of known names, mixed with its odd modern take on classic serials, I’m not surprised that it’s slipped through the cracks for some people. It’s really too bad. I’d love to see a sequel, to be honest. But I’m guessing a sequel to this is as likely as a sequel to Buckaroo Banzai. Still, wouldn’t Sky Captain Against the World Crime League be a fantastic idea?

October 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

October 26, 2010

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

The closing credits of yesterday’s movie, which depicted the continuing adventures of Steamboy, reminded me very much in mood and feel of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I’ve loved this movie since before I even saw it. I remember reading articles in Entertainment Weekly about how writer/director Kerry Conran started the project as a demo reel produced entirely on his home computer using publicly available computer design software. How his visuals captured the imagination of Hollywood producers and actors and how it made its way to the big screen. I love the idea of big adventure films made on an independent film budget. It gives me hope that some really wonderful and experimental movies that are nonetheless epic in scope could see the light of day.

This film itself, however, is not revolutionary. It is a loving homage to every cheesy thirties serial adventure and pulp science fiction magazine cover ever. The film geek in me was squeeling in joy almost through the entire movie. The iconic pointing fingers and flying robots attacking the city of New York come directly from the classic Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. The ray gun that Joe’s plucky gadget-friendly sidekick Dex toys with has a decidedly Flash Gordon feel to it. Every one of the robotic minions that plague Sky Captain look as though they come right off the front of Amazing Stories. Sky Captain himself reminds me of nothing so much as the brave scientist/adventurer Commando Cody.

Sky Captain is an elite English pilot who is sort of Batman but with a WWII P-40 instead of a Batplane. He has gadgets a plenty for his plane provided by gearhead and comic book fan Dex. When giant robots threaten New York City in 1939 the call for help immediately goes out to Sky Captain – the only man who can possibly save us! Accompanied by the hard-nosed Polly Perkins, a tenacious reporter who will not let go once she senses that there’s a story to be had, Joe must unravel the mystery of seven missing German scientists and attacks from giant robots that have happened all over the globe.

This movie is pure 1930s pulp fiction from beginning to end. It has exciting globe trotting (they follow the radio signals that drive the robots to Nepal.) It has fantastic technology (submersible planes and flying aircraft carriers (SHIELD anyone?) It has a brash hero in a leather jacket and a strong willed dame who trades quips with him throughout the entire adventure. The “other woman” is a completely badass female Nick Fury named Frankie who not only has an entire squadron of submersible planes at her command but has a jet pack. Played by Angelina Jolie no less. Dinosaurs! Robots! Tesla coils! And an ending that smacks of Moonraker.

There are very few actors here, and all of the extras were shot alone on green screen sets. Virtually nothing you see on the screen actually existed (with a couple exceptions.) It is entirely a digital creation, which works just fine for the film this wants to be. I must say that I was particularly impressed by Gwyneth Paltrow’s ability to act surrounded by nothing. She takes a whole lot of very corny dialog and manages to bring it to life somehow. Mostly just with a little smirk. Jude Law is fun as the eponymous Sky Captain; rakishly handsome and slightly misogynistic in a sort of 1930s way. And of course Angelina Jolie makes a fantastic Nick Fury – I would recommend her for the role if it weren’t already so well filled.

I loved every minute of this movie. It’s a fun romp and deliberately anachronistic. Funny that so much modern computer technology should be used to re-create such an ancient feel. In a strange coincidence I see that the trivia for this movie lists four other mostly-digital films done on green-screen stages in the same way. This, Sin City, Casshern, and Immortal. Wouldn’t you know that we own them all? I love our movie collection.

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