Friday, January 27, 2012


Last night I went to my friend's house and we ended up watching two movies that, by total coincidence, both had Angelica Huston in them. And, because she wasn't completely failing at playing Morticia Addams in either of them, I didn't hate her. Hooray!
50/50 is about Joseph Gordon-Levitt having unpronounceable back cancer. He has a girlfriend who you can tell from the first scene is a horrible bitch and that the relationship will end spectacularly mid-movie (I guess I should say SPOILER and such, but you really can tell, if not from the first time you see her then from the second scene when he's talking about how "meaningful" their relationship is). His best friend is Seth Rogen who provides pretty much all the humor in the movie (he's very hit or miss for me but I like him a lot in this one) and Angelica Huston is his mom, who I think has the most honest performance in the movie. I actually loved her in this.
The problem with 50/50 is it makes cancer look kind of fun. You get to destroy paintings with your funny best friend, you get a weird looking dog and you get to hang out with bald Matt Frewer and another old guy who curses a lot. (It kind of tries to show a sadder side, but it's sort of glossed over. "Oh, and he's sad and in pain, too, but look how funny Seth Rogen is!")
And (here's another minor spoiler) I realized about midway through that I wasn't going to be happy with a definite ending. If he died it would be too sad, if he lived it would be a total cop out. The only way I would have been happy with 50/50 would have been if it ended before you find out whether he survives. Ambiguity would have been the best way to go. And they didn't do that.
But overall I liked it way more than I had expected to. So that's good.

End of line.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Room Service

The more post-Zeppo Marx Brothers movies I see, the more lousy Marx Brothers movies I see. They're not terrible or anything, they're just not very good. Room Service is one of those.
Groucho is producing a play but he has no money and he (and his entire cast) are mooching off the hotel his brother in law manages. The owner wants to kick them all out. The writer of the play wants to be successful and marry Ann Miller. And it's just a series of zany schemes that aren't zany so much as they are uncomfortable. (And there was a faking-a-suicide sequence that went on a really long time and was supposed to be funny. Ordinarily that wouldn't have bothered me (I still don't think I would have thought it was funny, but I also probably wouldn't have thought much about it) that was just really bad timing.)
So Room Service isn't worth it. It didn't really feel like a Marx Brothers movie. It felt like a mediocre play that happened to star the Marx Brothers. (In fact, it's quite possible that's what it was. I know a few of their movies were adapted from plays they were in.)

End of line.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kill Your Idols

Kill Your Idols is a documentary about no wave music coming out of New York in the 1970s and '80s, as well as some of the more current bands that were in one way or another inspired by it.
The first thirty minutes or so that focused on the '70s and '80s were fascinating. I love learning about modern music history (basically, music from the late 1800s onward) and no wave is not a genre I know a whole lot about. It's full of names I've heard, but I've never heard the music that goes with those names before.
About halfway through the movie they brought in the current musicians and the movie lost a little something for me. (It also gained a beautiful Ukranian something, but I'm doing my best to not be shallow. ... Eugene Hutz is lovely.)
I think the main problem with the current bands was ...
You know, what? No. Most of the bands I had no problem with. They had some really interesting things to say. There were only two people from the 2000s I had a problem with:
The frontman from A.R.E. Weapons whose name I don't remember, who just seemed so arrogant and sleazy that I felt like I needed a chemical shower every time he showed up on screen, and Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs who said "like" and "yaknow" so many times my head would explode if I tried to count them. Neither of them had anything interesting or insightful to say, and I'm sad the movie spent so much time with the two of them. All the other bands seemed to have brains and ideas, and I don't know why more time wasn't spent on some of them. (There was a nice segment where they focused on Gogol Bordello, but it could have been longer. Not that I'm biased or anything. *averted gaze* *nonchalant whistling*)
The only other part of the movie I really didn't like was the part where the musicians from the '70s and '80s that sat around badmouthing the music that's coming out of New York now, saying that they think they're all in it for the parties and adulation and magazine spreads more than the music. I think that may be true of a lot of bands (and has been since pop music and fan magazines became a thing, so what's your point?), but I don't think it's true of the bands that were interviewed for Kill Your Idols. Even the Yeah Yeah Yeahs seemed at least somewhat sincere and I didn't particularly like them. (A.R.E. Weapons didn't seem sincere; I could just pretend all the badmouthing was toward them.)
Also, I just want to say that, while I kind of understand where she's coming from and why she seemed mad, Lydia Lunch needs to get over herself. I'm sorry the music of today bores you, lady, but from some of the things they said about you, it sounds like you got into it for the sex. So how are you any different than the shallow crap you're bitching about?
The movie ends with the question of where the music is going to go from here and a montage of all the interviewees looking blank trying to come up with an answer (how much of that was honest reaction to the "what's next?" question and how much of that was just editing, I do not know). Then, over the end credits of a movie about music that is for the most part noisy and rebellious, they played Through The Roof 'N' Underground by Gogol Bordello, a song that is relatively quiet and beautiful.
I don't know why the filmmakers picked that song, but I'm thrilled they did. Not only because they ended their movie with a band I absolutely love, but because they ended their movie quietly. I don't know why, but I think that's really neat.

End of line.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Shadows And Fog

This is the third Woody Allen movie I've seen. The first was Everyone Says I Love You (which I watched only because Tim Roth was in it; I can tell you he sings at one point and that's all I can tell you about the entire movie. I don't remember who else was in it or what the plot was. I can't even remember what song Tim Roth sang or if he was any good at it) and the second was Scoop (which was okay but I didn't like the ending). Of the three, I definitely liked Shadows And Fog best.
There's a killer on the loose. Mostly he strangles. And all the men in town are forming a vigilante group to catch the killer. They wake up Woody Allen in the middle of the night and drag him into their vigilante group. He has an important job to do, but nobody will tell him the plan or his part in it.
Meanwhile, Mia Farrow and John Malkovich are circus performers. She wants to settle down and have a family and he mostly just wants to have sex with Madonna. So Mia Farrow storms away into the city, not knowing that there's a killer on the loose.
The movie is more talk than plot; there's something about it that really appeals to me. I'm not usually into talky movies that get philosophical, but this one was done in a way that suits my needs. The philosophical talk only got a little bit pretentious in a few scenes. I think having a lot of the talk come from a house full of sassy prostitutes played by actresses I like (Jodie Foster, Kathy Bates and Lily Tomlin) really helps.
The cast in this movie is crazy. My friends and I spent the whole movie recognizing people: Donald Plesance, Wallace Shawn, Kenneth Mars, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Kurtwood Smith, Julie Kavner and the aforementioned hooker trio. (And Ezster Balint, but she was more of a "she looks really familiar" situation; I didn't know she was her until the end credits.)
So I guess not all Woody Allen movies are as forgettable as the first two I saw. I'd even watch Shadows And Fog again sometime. Maybe I ought to give him more of a chance.

End of line.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Just Watched Gigantic For The Second Time: The Tale Of One Sally Who Thinks Two Johns Deserve A Better Documentary

Due to my self-imposed rules, I have to claim that this is not a review, merely a ... I don't know, a reaction.

As I was rewatching Gigantic: A Tale Of Two Johns today, I remembered why I don't watch it more often. (I've owned it for years and today was only the second time I watched it.)
The only phrase I can think of to describe it is "self-serving" but that could be so easily misconstrued because it's not the band being self-serving. The interviews with the band members are actually quite lovely and interesting, as are the interviews with some of the people who have worked with them.
The people I have a problem with are their famous fans who the filmmakers insisted on including in the movie for some reason. They're the ones being self-serving. I won't name names, except for the fact that I totally will: the two worst offenders are Sarah Vowell and Ira Glass. I despise both of them, but Sarah Vowell especially. Everything about that woman is offensive and if I never hear her voice (see her face, read her name) again, it'll be to goddamn soon.
Anyway, a few of the interviewees are way too pleased with themselves for being They Might Be Giants fans and I feel like they agreed to do this movie so they could rub that in the viewers' faces, not realizing that the people watching the movie are also They Might Be Giants fans, who maybe just love the music and aren't in it for the status symbol and accolades that come with being a TMBG fan (of which there are none).
I feel like a band as talented and well-respected (and who seem to have such good heads on their shoulders) as They Might Be Giants deserve to be the subject of a good documentary, one that spends less time patting itself on the back and more time talking about the band, its history and its music.
Just a thought.

End of line.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Devil Inside

In 1989 a woman named Maria Rossi killed three people who were trying to exorcize a demon from her. Twenty years later her daughter decided to team up with a documentary filmmaker and investigate the event. They went to visit Maria, who had been moved to an institution in Rome, and got together with a couple of priests who perform exorcisms behind the church's back (justifiably).
Understandably, scary devil shit happens because otherwise there would be no movie.
I really liked The Devil Inside, simply because it was entertaining. I'm kind of tired of the whole "found footage" style of movie, but this isn't exactly that. At least, not a first (in the beginning it really tries to look like a documentary, including interviews with experts and footage of old news reports). It kind of becomes found footagey midway through, but I was already invested in it by then, so I didn't mind.
Yes, it was kind of predictable. Yes, it had its share of jump scares (which tend to annoy me more than anything else). Yes, it had scenes of people just yelling at each other. But unlike Paranormal Activity, that wasn't the entire movie. Just a couple of scenes.
Unless you count the exorcisms. But that screaming is acceptable. It would be weird to not have it.
And what I really liked about The Devil Inside was it kept me interested the whole way through. Even when I could tell what was going to happen, even when people were arguing, even when I thought parts of it (or, really just one thing) didn't make sense, I was still completely involved. It felt shorter than it was, and it's not a long movie to begin with.

End of line.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Drive Angry

Back when Drive Angry came out, I thought it looked pretty fun but I didn't go see it. One night Scott asked me if I had seen it and, when I said no, he told me that it was made specifically for me, and every day I don't watch it, the filmmakers cry.
Tonight, after months and months (possibly more than a year) of Scott saying I need to see Drive Angry, he finally sat me down and showed it to me.
Holy crap, you guys, this movie was made just for me! It is so much fun!
Everything about it is over the top. First of all, it stars Nicholas Cage (when you want over the top, you get Nick Cage). The first shot is of a vintage car driving through a CGI hell, followed by Nicholas Cage smashing into / flipping over a truck full of dudes, who he varously maims and kills with guns. (That hand flying off the guy's arm must have looked pretty impressive in 3-D.)
After that there are explosions, gun battles, ridiculous sex scenes (during gun battles, in a move stolen from Shoot 'Em Up), devil worshippers, stabbing, punching, profanity, ridiculous dialogue, and William Fichtner.
If this movie had been made in the 1990s, William Fichtner's part would have been played by Christopher Walken. And, much as I love Christopher Walken, I think William Fichtner played him better. If this movie had been successful (I guess it flopped) it would have made him a star. Rather than just this generation's "that weird-face guy," more people would actually know his name. He's absolutely great, my favoite character in the movie by far.
I can't necessarily say I highly recommend Drive Angry (to some people, maybe, but not in general) but I can absolutely say that I fucking loved it. Scott was one hundred percent correct.
And now all the people who made it can stop crying.

End of line.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Return To Sleepaway Camp and other unfinished movies

I just watched the first forty or so minutes of Return To Sleepaway Camp. I will not be watching the other forty six. It was wretched. Everything about it was horrible, screechy, unlikeable and, above all else, unnecessarily cruel (which would be fine if I was only talking about the kill scenes, but I was almost to the halfway point and there had been only two kill scenes, neither of which were all that wretched compared to the rest of the movie).
To be honest, I remember having a similar reaction to the original Sleepaway Camp but I'm also pretty sure it had at least one or two likeable and / or kind characters, and the ending was a doozy. Return To Sleepaway Camp had a grand total of zero likeable and / or kind characters. Not one. And I'm one hundred percent certain the ending isn't a doozy.
(POSSIBLE (seeing as I didn't actually finish the movie) SPOILER: I bet you money that in the end it turns out the sheriff is the killer, and that he's also Angela in disguise. I'm 99.999999 percent certain that's the ending.)
Anyway, seeing as I gave up on it, I'd like to take this opportunity to write a post I'd been thinking about doing for a while: Movies I Couldn't Finish.
You see, I kind of see movies as a dare. I have to watch them through to the bitter end, even if I'm not enjoying them, because go to hell, movie, I am the master of you!
Sometimes I cannot follow through on those dares. For instance:

Desire - Also known as The Salt On Our Skin, this is a slow, boring romantic drama starring Vincent D'Onofrio that I tried to watch twice and fell asleep both times. In the middle of the afternoon. Considering how much I hate napping, this must be the most boring movie ever made.
Dragnet - This one actually may have been a matter of me not being in the mood to watch a movie at the time. But a lot of movies can change my mood after I've started watching them. Dragnet could not.
Fear - Something about ghosts, I think? This was an Indian movie about a lady and maybe ghosts. Not only could I not finish it, I can't remember what little I did watch.
Hack - Holy mother of pretension, was this movie a pain in the brain. The first twenty minutes (all I could stand to watch) were nothing but a screenwriter screaming "Look how much I know about popular culture! Please think I'm cool!" Sorry, dude. Not cool.
Hope Floats - I don't think Sandra Bullock has ever been in a movie that remotely interested me. Especially not this one. This is the only movie I ever walked out of in a movie theater (and didn't eventually return to; I did walk out of The Lion King but I did go back in). I'm not entirely sure why I went to see it in the first place. A friend dragged me, I think. It sucked.
My Name Is Bruce - So, it turns out I don't like Bruce Campbell. I hate actors who play "themselves" as complete assholes who you just want to punch in the nuts (or the female equivalent thereof, if they're ladies). Hate them. And from what I watched of My Name Is Bruce, that's all that it was.
Paranormal Entity - I figured since I hated Paranormal Activity so goddamn much, maybe I'd like the crappy ripoff version by The Asylum. I gave up after less than ten minutes. It seemed to be a guaranteed bore, just like the movie whose success it was trying to make money off of.
Raising Arizona - They kidnapped a baby. They motherfucking kidnapped a baby. And they're supposed to be the protagonists. Fuck this movie.
Return To Sleepaway Camp - Cruel, unnecessary, awful, wretched movie.
Swimming With Sharks - One of the many reasons I'm scared of Kevin Spacey. (Okay, I do like the line about the Sweet 'N Low about how "I don't care if there's fucking fairy dust in it," but that wasn't enough to save this.)
The Scarlet Letter - I've actually considered giving this movie a second chance, on the sole virtue of Gary Oldman being beautiful (and drunk off his ass, but we don't have to talk about that). However, I first tried to watch it at the height of my first Gary Oldman phase and him being beautiful didn't save it then (and being drunk off his ass might be part of why he couldn't save it).
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea - Okay, I have to admit I turned it off so I wouldn't have to see the giant squid. I'm afraid of squids and octopuses. (And, yes, I know those aren't the proper plurals of those words.)
We Think The World Of You - Speaking of movies I couldn't finish featuring beautiful Gary Oldman, here's another. He wasn't in it very much and I got bored.

There was one more I was talking about to Rebekah about a week ago, but cannot for the life of me remember now, and it is driving me up the wall. If it comes to me, I'll let you know.

End of line.

Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?

I really love documentaries about the life and work of artists I admire. They're not always movies I can recommend to everybody, though, because I feel like that's sort of a specialized genre. They're intended for people who already care.
This movie, however, I think can and should be seen by everybody. It's simply a biography about Harry Nilsson, but it's so comprehensive, so full of his music, so fascinating and full of ups and downs that I think it could make anybody love him.
I honestly don't know why I don't have more of his music. He was so incredibly talented (the more I think about it, the more I think of him as a sort of precurser to They Might Be Giants) and if I knew anything about writing music, he'd be one of my biggest inspirations. I love people who can write all kinds of music with the connecting thread of great melodies and harmonies, and that's what Nilsson did.
I don't think I realized how much of his music I've known my whole life. I knew I knew The Point, but there were all kinds of songs popping up in this documentary that I had no idea were his. I didn't know he wrote One, for instance, and I'd totally forgotten I knew Good Old Desk until it started playing. I don't know where I heard it before, but I'd heard it and I'm really bummed I don't have a copy of that song.
It's always disappointing to hear that his biggest hit (or so people say) was Everybody's Talkin', because if I had to pick a Harry Nilsson song I just don't like, that would be it. It's boring. And it turns out he didn't write it (which would explain the boring, certainly). I'm also skeptical about it really being his biggest hit, when my whole life I've always heard Coconut and Without You (another song he didn't write) more.
And speaking of Without You: somebody on Facebook a while back posted a link to a story about radio stations retiring Stairway To Heaven or something like that, and posed the question "What songs would you retire?" I said I'm against the idea, regardless of how much I dislike a song (such as Stairway To Heaven) because I am not the boss of music. However, I want to go back and change my answer to "every version of Without You that Harry Nilsson did not sing." It's so beautiful and painful (in the best possible way) when he sings it, and it's disappointing and the absolute worst kind of painful when, for instance, Mariah Carey sings it.
I thought it was really interesting that Movie Lottery bestowed this movie upon me on the anniversary of his death.

End of line.

Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit?

The movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is "based" on the book Who Censored Roger Rabbit but, in case you couldn't tell by the quote marks around the word based, it wasn't really. Several characters had the same names and that was the beginning and the end of it.
Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit? is a sort of sequel to both. Author Gary K. Wolf keeps certain elements from his first book (toons speaking in word balloons rather than voices being my favorite) and other elements from the movie (the fact that Jessica actually cares about Roger, for instance), and turns them into a really good mystery novel that's only really good if you haven't read Who Censored Roger Rabbit? or seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit. (There's no question mark at the end of the movie title. According to Mouse Under Glass, movies with punctuation weren't selling tickets so Touchstone opted out of the question mark.)
It was an interesting story, certainly, but I have both read the first book and seen the movie, and the half-assed disclaimer at the start of the book (something along the lines of "Roger and his friends play it fast and loose with the facts") doesn't cut it for me.
And from here on in, there are spoilers mainly about the first book (and one about the second):
Roger Rabbit dies in the middle of Who Censored Roger Rabbit?. He's murdered, he's dead, and his doppelganger disintegrates on the last page, thus leaving no room for a sequel. Gary K. Wolf makes exactly no attempts to explain how Roger Rabbit un-died. No dice, buddy. The second the book starts I'm against you. How is Roger alive? I don't care how shitty your explanation is, just as long as you give me one.
In fact, now that I think about it, all my problems with this book lie in the fact that he seems to have let the movie influence his writing. Roger's alive in this book because he's alive in the movie. Jessica loves Roger in this book because she loves Roger in the movie (in the first book she only married him because of a genie-granted wish. We're actually supposed to spend all of this book thinking she's cheating on Roger but I could tell it wasn't going to end that way). Heck, I'm sure if I bothered to go back and look it up, I'm pretty sure Roger Rabbit looks different in the first book than he does in the second because Wolf altered his appearance to fit how he's drawn in the movie.
And that really fucking bothers me. This book feels like a bit of a cash-grab in that respect. Rather than staying true to his original ideas, he wrote a book to capitalize on the fact that a movie "based" on his original ideas was incredibly popular.
That being said, if I were to ignore the inconsistencies between Censored and P-P-P-Plugged, or if I had only ever read the latter, I would have really enjoyed it. It's funny, it's got a lot of stereotypical hard-boiled-detective-novel dialogue and metaphors. Unlike Robert Bloch's Psycho novels, Wolf gives you the information you'd need to figure out the mystery yourself if you really wanted to and I was satisfied that the ending used all the information given throughout the book (as opposed to several people's problem with Censored, that the ending had nothing to do with the rest of the book).
So, yeah, it's a good book and it could have been a great book if he hadn't let himself be so heavily influenced by the movie.

End of line.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Monty Python's Life Of Brian

Actually, if you want to get technical, a more accurate name would be Monty Python's Few Days Of Brian. But what kind of title is that? You Can't Call A Show Cornflakes.
Anyway, Life Of Brian is about a guy named Brian, who joins the People's Front Of Judea because he really hates the Romans. And that's about it. A lot of stuff happens (stoning, aliens, mistaken messiah-identity, that sort of thing) and most of it is a direct result of Brian joining the PFJ.
It's a Monty Python movie so it's very silly and very funny, and I think it's weird that the most famous thing about the movie seems to be the part where Brian is thought to be the messiah, 'cause that's less than half of the movie. It's just a few funny scenes in the midst of several funny scenes.
Much like Holy Grail, Life Of Brian ends on a down note (maybe not quite as down as Grail, thanks to the song, but still) and, because I am the kind of person I am, that really bugs me. Comedies with unhappy endings don't sit well with me. Which is, I guess, why Eric Idle decided to end it with Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life. So it wouldn't be a downer ending.
With everyone Brian knows deliberately leaving him to die and an entire hillside of people being crucified.
Sorry. I know I shouldn't give away endings, but come on. It's Life Of Brian. If you haven't already seen it, you're not going to. I just happen to be the world's laziest Python fan.
And it's not like I'd never seen it before. I just happened to be about six years old at the time and didn't remember much of the movie. I remembered the stoning scene (thought it was hilarious; I remember telling all my friends about it and I don't think they understood what I was talking about), the aliens (because they scared the living bejeezus out of my brother) and the song at the end.
What I didn't have a vivid memory of was Graham Chapman's penis, which is the first thing anybody mentions when I say I haven't seen Life Of Brian since I was six. Apparently this is a big deal. Nobody bothers to point out that there's also a naked woman in that scene.
What I will say is, if that scene left any impression at all, it's the fact that I have always had a crush on Graham Chapman. But to be honest, the only member of Monty Python I don't have a crush on is John Cleese. And as far as I know, I've never seen all the rest of them naked (except the Terrys, but only from the back). So I really don't think that has anything to do with it.
The point is, I think the reason the mistaken messiah-identity part is the most famous part of the movie is because it's probably the funniest (although I could have done with a little less shouting).
Which I say, and then remember the haggling bit, Pontious Pilot's speech impediment, the opening scene with the three wise men, the stoning scene (twenty two years later it still cracks me up) and Brian's anti-Roman graffiti being corrected by a Roman guard. And the jokester guy getting mad about being released.
And Stan wanting to be Loretta from now on.
And the people arguing at the Sermon On The Mount.
And the old man thinking being stabbed is worse than being crucified. ("You're weird.")
And ... You know, the whole movie was good. Why the hell didn't I get around to watching it sooner?

End of line.