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Watch any good movies lately?

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  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    Duel (1971) isn’t the first thing Steven Spielberg ever made, but it’s the first thing which hit it really big. What was a TV movie got some added scenes and wound up in theaters. That’s because it’s tense and tight – even with added material it’s barely 90 minutes. The time just flies by.
    Describing the story isn’t hard. A man (Dennis Weaver) is driving somewhere in the American Southwest, and passes a truck on the highway. This is perfectly legal of course, but the truck driver takes it very badly, and what follows is an extended chase. That truck will not leave Weaver alone, and his responses to the situation do not make it go away. That truck wants him dead.
    We get a single scene with Weaver on the phone to establish the bare basics of character – and it works. He had an argument with his wife the night before, which stems from a guest at the house apparently pawing her. Weaver didn’t immediately stand up for his wife, and she’s (understandably) upset. This establishes the type of character he is, and his motivation – he needs to get home in time for dinner tonight, or he’ll incur even more wifely wrath.
    The trucker is never seen, but his truck is – and it’s a nasty sucker. This thing is emphasized in plenty of closeup shots at wide angles. It’s ugly, and it resembles a tank in many ways. The diesel expulsion of its engine is an extremely unpleasant sound.
    Weaver is the centerpiece. Several times he interacts with others along the road, but he’s in every scene. He’s up to it, too. The other characters with whom he interacts are never around long enough to make a serious impression. That doesn’t mean they do a bad job, just that they aren’t onscreen long enough to do more than the needed work.
    This is so early in Spielberg’s career that John Williams isn’t the composer. That means the sound design is a little different, though mostly diagetic aural items are heard. The occasional soundtrack intrusion therefore stands out, especially since it isn’t like what Williams would likely have done.
    There’s a lot to say about this, especially since it’s leaner and meaner than most other thing Spielberg would work on over the years, but the core is this: it works. A modern-day version would need to account for cell phones (one scene involves the only pay phone for miles being taken out) but otherwise would be unchanged.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    Devotion (1946) is a well-acted drama that should not be relied upon as an accurate representation of history. That caveat aside, I found it did a very good job of presenting its characters in an effective way. It probably wouldn’t be made much differently in the present due to its period setting, unless the script was heavily rewritten to strictly reflect the historical record.
    Scenario: the Bronte family in England of the 1820s is the subject. Eldest daughter Emily (Ida Lupino) is concerned about the welfare of her younger siblings, and rarely thinks of herself. Her sister Charlotte (Olivia de Havilland) is the principal problem, inspired to flits of imagination and whimsy. At first these flights of fancy are directed toward brother Branford, whose boastful personality combined with some artistic talent seems to indicate moving to London would be a good idea. Charlotte and youngest sister Anne are initially willing to help their brother by working to support his ambitions, but that unravels quickly and everyone comes home, somewhat the wiser. In the interim though, new arrival Mr. Nichols (Paul Henreid) captured Emily’s heart but never acted on it. His actions toward Charlotte when she returns do not initially result in anything but her antagonism, as she first saw the man leading her brother home from the local pub and took Nichols as another heavy drinker. When she won’t shut up about it at a formal dance, Nichols takes her aside and kisses her instead of administering a beating – his self-described two methods for dealing with women who refuse to let something stand.
    Emily and Charlotte go to school in Belgium not long afterward, where Charlotte’s flights of fancy are centered on the married headmaster while her sister does her best to avert big trouble. Hearing about Charlotte’s growing interest in Mr. Nichols tears Emily up terribly, but she never shows it to her sister. Eventually they have to go back to England thanks to Branford’s health deterioration, something that Charlotte fights and Emily is eager to do. From there, Nichols moves away and further ruptures Emily’s heart while Charlotte eventually becomes a renowned author, responsible for Jane Eyre. Emily wrote something too, Wuthering Heights, which an astute upperclassman in London (Sydney Greenstreet) identifies as stemming from a love affair that went badly.
    Knowing what happens isn’t detrimental to the experience, especially when some of it is indeed derived from the historical record. It’s acted at top-level all around, even though Paul Henreid’s accent is difficult to accept from an Englishman in the early 1800s and Sydney Greenstreet is only around for about 10 minutes despite fourth billing. This is de Havilland and Lupino’s movie above all else, and they’re definitely equal to it. Things move well, the script is effective without getting stupid or overly sentimental, the direction by Curtis Bernhardt is workmanlike without drawing attention to itself, and the story wraps up without feeling overlong. It’s an effective character study and drama, something that is to be prized. Apparently it sat on the shelf for several years after being made, a victim of de Havilland suing Warner Bros. over wanting to choose her own scripts. After her stardom level ascended in the mid-40s, Jack Warner ordered it taken off the shelf in search of profits.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • DombantDombant New Member Full Members
    edited December 2014
    The Divine Move 3/5

    It's a Korean movie about all sorts of shady figures playing the Japanese Game of Go and beating the piss out of each other. The action scenes are good, overall the movie is very stylish, the story however is its main problem. It's basically a very simple revenge plot, but told in a needlessly complicated fashion, making the movie hit the two hour mark. That in itself wouldn't be so bad if a lot of the plot didn't feel rushed at the same time. Overall I must say, it's not a perfect movie but its perfectly enjoyable on a rainy afternoon. So if your idea of a good time is a somewhat graphic movie about gambling, give this one a shot.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    I Love Melvin (1953) is the semi-triumphant reunion of Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, just one year after Singin’ in the Rain. It’s not the equal of that movie (in the world of musicals, few are), but manages to be an entertaining creation anyway. Its slim running time of only 81 minutes helps, especially when the plot is even fluffier than the usual musical goofiness.
    O’Connor is the Melvin of the title, employed at Look magazine (something like Life magazine) as an errand boy inside its massive New York skyscraper, but willing to bump up his abilities just a bit to impress a girl. Such as Judy (Reynolds), a girl who dreams big but has to settle for the day job of being a football in a stage production. (Being a football means she gets tossed between men constantly and has to fold herself into a ball shape as often as possible). They meet by one of the more obvious Meet Cutes around: both are singing a song in the park and approach from opposite sides of a hedge, colliding when they cross the corner. Ah, but they don’t IMMEDIATELY click: both are irate at the collision and go on their ways slightly miffed. Photographer Melvin finds her again during her football performance, and persistence pays off: he starts taking pictures of lovely Linda. Will his insistence that she is Look magazine cover material pay off eventually? Will Judy’s ostensible fianc
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    11:14 (2003) compares itself to Memento and Crash on the packaging. I haven’t seen the latter, but it’s nowhere near Memento’s league. Not that it’s bad, but with a slim 83 minute run time and five separate storylines it feels a bit over-ambitious. What it cooks up is certainly interesting, but not really worth deep contemplation afterward.
    The first tale told is of a young man who is engaging in the unwise activity of drinking while driving. Maybe if he’d been fully aware he would have dodged the body falling from an overpass above, but he didn’t, and it impacts on his windshield. A passing motorist (Barbara Hershey) sees his stopped car and cracked windshield, assumes that he must have run into a deer, and calls the police for assistance. Compounding his problem, the young man decides to try cramming the body into his trunk, which he has just managed to do when company arrives. The officer on the scene has a couple of people in the back already, and manages to uncover the situation by investigating this fellow’s obvious intoxication. This leads into a fleeing fugitive, who gets creamed by Barbara Hershey for the murder of her daughter. Well, this guy may be confused, but did look at the body he found – and it was male.
    After that hook, the other stories follow in detailing the escapades that went on in this small town with a lot happening. Story #2 follows three young men (one is Colin Hanks) engaged in very stupid activities while drinking & driving, such as trying to pee out the window while the van is in motion – and then losing something precious when the automobile suddenly stops. Story #3 details a protective father (Patrick Swayze) convinced that his daughter (Rachel Leigh Cook) convinced that she killed her boyfriend and covering up the crime to protect her. Fourth story is the tale of a concession store attendant (Hilary Swank) and her coworker/friend who needs money to cover an abortion for his girlfriend (Cook). His bright idea is to rob the place where he works. The fifth tale is that of Cook herself, who proves to have ice water for blood and might have been a femme fatale in another universe – she doesn’t get disrupted for long when her boyfriend dies as a result of a broken statue falling onto his head while they have sex in a graveyard. What a gal.
    It’s an interesting movie, definitely. The acting is fine across the board, and an EMT is played by a young Jason Segal. This movie is rare in its presentation of almost uniformly repellent characters – Cook’s parents and the policeman are likable, but everyone else is either an idiot or a louse, often both.
    One thing the director could have done without was the establishing shots at the beginning of each story that make it absolutely clear what time it is. Digital clocks are already visible in the background, with no magnification needed to make out the time displayed. Having a closeup of the time for each segment feels like needless catering to the people who weren’t paying attention – especially in a movie like this where failure to pay attention will result in having no idea what’s happening.
    I was not blown away in any way by this title, but it definitely held my interest throughout.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    Roller Boogie (1979) has a great soundtrack. That’s an excuse to track down a bunch of groovy tunes that include Cher and Earth, Wind and Fire contributions, but actually seeing the movie is in no way necessary. Doing so is likely to induce giddy laughter when the already-ancient plot contortions happen.
    There really aren’t any characters in this movie, just archetypes that the actors try with varying levels of success to inhabit. Linda Blair is the Girl Who Joins the Other Team, and it’s only in the details of her life that any individuality appears. She’s been accepted to Juilliard, which makes her protests of not liking the string quartet music in which she plays quite odd. People who play apathetically don’t get into Juilliard. Nevertheless, she does love to go out onto the SoCal street scene for roller skating. As do many other people. I wasn’t around for the late 70s, but apparently this was a Big Thing for awhile. Much footage of people roller skating on the street and the local roller derby arena will take place – some of it displaying impressive dance moves. Since these sequences also come scored to groovy tunes, they’re innocuous and kinda fun.
    Otherwise we have a plot that was ripped straight out of a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney picture. There’s a Bad Guy who wants to tear the roller derby down and put in a strip mall! Linda Blair has Parents Who Don’t Understand (though Beverly Garland makes her mother have a couple of memorable moments). There’s a Bland Hero, and plenty of the Hero’s Friends who do nothing except roller skate and be there at important moments. There’s a mammoth contrivance to let the good guys find out that the kindly old guy who owns the roller derby is being transparently threatened so his property can be taken – with a cassette player ready to record the damning exchange. Would that hold up in a court of law? Hm….
    Oh yes, and we have unfortunate fashions aplenty. Rainbow suspenders, short shorts on guys, plaid shirts, pastel suits – the garish clothing on display is enough to make some people happy they didn’t exist to see it at the time. The music has aged much better than the visuals. It’s also really the only reason to see it.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    Spider-man 3 (2007) is one of the more reviled superhero titles from over the years. Watching it for the first time in 7 ½ years, I can’t argue that it was misjudged. That doesn’t mean it needed to be relegated to the ashbin of history by the Amazing Spider-man movies, but we can’t always have nice things.
    Do I honestly need to restate the plot? No. There ARE things that work in it though, but they’re diminished compared to the first two Sam Raimi / Tobey Maguire titles. Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) has a solid introduction, and frankly him wandering onto a testing site is no more outlandish than most villain creations in comic movies. Harry Osborn (James Franco) gets a good end, helping his friend. Rosemary Harris remains a good Aunt May, even with diminished screen time. The idea of Peter proposing to Mary Jane is solid, even if the movie doesn’t follow through. Um… seeing J.K. Simmons play J. Jonah Jameson a little more is cool, especially after the horrendous lack of Jameson in these Amazing Spider-man movies. I had completely forgotten that Elizabeth Banks is in the movie, playing Jameson’s secretary Betty Brant. She’s not in very much of the movie, to be sure, but her presence is fun.
    Where it went wrong takes longer to deal with, but I’ll take a stab. To start, the introduction of Gwen Stacey is spectacularly pointless. Bryce Dallas-Howard does fine with the maybe 15 minutes her character is on the screen, but her whole purpose is the make Peter cast googly eyes at another woman and inflame Mary Jane. Didn’t need to be here at all. Captain Stacey (James Cromwell) has even less time, and even less purpose. Write them out and we’ve trimmed some valuable time that could have gone toward, I dunno, giving Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) more time to make him a full-fledged character instead of a last-minute addition? Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship goes through a lot of artificial contortions that bring it right back to the status quo from the end of the second movie – for no reason whatsoever. I remember Sam Raimi wasn’t a fan of Venom and didn’t initially want to include the character, which certainly explains a few things. If you don’t know anything about Venom going in, the movie does a bad job of divulging information. It’s a symbiote that does… something… to Peter Parker. Gives him a black costume and makes his darker tendencies come front and center? Yeah, that’s about it. Oh, and it doesn’t like loud sounds. The information is given out so haphazardly that I have no idea how anyone unfamiliar with the concept would figure it out.
    I have no idea why the script felt the need to make Sandman into the killer of Uncle Ben through a retcon. So that Spider-man would feel really angry and actually try to kill him? With Venom already around there was no real reason to do that – have Sandman be blamed for the death of a kid or something to produce the enraged effect.
    Amnesiac Harry Osborn is another element that doesn’t really go anywhere. Especially when it makes the hospital that couldn’t notice the serum in his bloodstream, or all the other wounds he suffered during the fight, seem pretty damn negligent. Did he somehow not break anything during his amnesia-ridden time around the mansion? I guess the magical butler who saw everything but never reported it until the time of convenience did a great job with cleaning.
    Then there’s the part everyone remembers unfavorably – Peter under Venom’s influence, walking around being a faux Bad Dude. Since it’s played for laughs, I didn’t take it very seriously. Making this sequence come across in a more serious manner probably required a script revision to give the evil nature of Venom more development time. Instead, we get a goofy sequence with Tobey Maguire looking like he just popped out of the late 70s.
    I thought Amazing Spider-man was pretty blasé about Spider-man keeping his identity a secret, but Spider-man 3 isn’t much better. New Yorkers are pretty prone to taking pictures of anything interesting, and that fight with Neo Goblin plus the finale offered numerous opportunities to ID the man. Or maybe all the photos turned out badly because of the rampant CG that deflates interest in the proceedings when humans are rare appearances, I dunno.
    All my complaining aside, I don’t hate this movie. I never did. Disappointed by it, I most definitely am, but a Spider-man 4 still deserved to exist instead of the franchise getting a reboot.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited April 2015
    Petulia (1968) is a rarity with me: a late 60s movie that still works. I can chalk some of that up to George C. Scott in the lead, because the man is compulsively watchable. I can chalk some more up to Richard Lester being the director, fresh off A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and still in command of his element. The editing is very much of the time, as is the somewhat confused time structure: but it works. The style does not bury everything else in the movie, and I didn’t feel like I needed to have some drugs in my system to appreciate what was going on.
    Scott is a doctor seeking a divorce. The issues affecting his marriage would probably be deemed ‘irreconcilable differences’ but they certainly don’t hate each other. She’s found someone else, and so has he. Weekly visits to their two sons are a crucial part of his schedule, so he’s not a deadbeat dad either.
    The jinx in the proceedings comes from the title character, played by Julie Christie in a definite reflection of the times. Petulia is a troubled woman, though she certainly doesn’t think of herself in that way when she can be bothered to think instead of reacting. Her approach to Scott is emblematic of the times – throwing herself at him and not wanting to drop it. She’s got drugs in her system, and a story that isn’t pretty once it’s been revealed. Essentially she’s fleeing a (perhaps too hasty) marriage to an abusive husband, and her parents in law are powerful enough to keep whatever charges she might lodge from ever sticking. This does explain her choosing to stay at Scott’s residence until forced into the hospital due to a suicide attempt, where she’s tracked down by relatives. It doesn't explain why she decides to toss a trash can through a store window at night in order to grab a musical instrument just because she felt like it, but that's another example of how not-right she is.

    Lester doesn’t tell this story in chronological order, letting key facts remain to be revealed later to the viewer. He occasionally inserts several quick-cut shots that are flashbacks within the scenes, and actually make sense since they’re spurred by the current topic of conversation. Otherwise he holds back on unnecessary late 60s film techniques that haven’t aged well, and the movie is definitely the better for it.
    Oddly enough, I found the soundtrack not very good in its selections of extant tunes. They’re quite appropriate to the time and locale of 1968 San Francisco, but by using Big Brother and the Holding Company along with some Grateful Dead, the filmmakers managed to grab two of my least favorite bands from the area. What are the odds?
    I don’t see much from this era that still works, making this a treasure. Not very well known by the standards of Richard Lester’s other work, it deserves investigation by the interested.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    Horrible Bosses 2 (2014) has gotten a lot of negative reviews, and I can’t see why. Sure all the jokes don’t hit – that’s pretty damn rare for a comedy. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day are such an entertaining trio that their tossed-off line deliveries are usually pretty funny though. Frankly, I might have enjoyed this more than the original, which I recall being amused by but am having a hard time picking out any specifics from three years later.
    The situation here is that the trio has decided to go into business for themselves, creating something called a Shower Buddy that automatically administers all the components that generally go into a person’s shower time. This proposal is accepted by a successful businessman Burt Hanson (Christoph Walz) who later springs a trap on them: by letting the loans taken out to produce 100,000 units go bad, he’ll be able to pick up the entire product for pennies on the dollar, with complete legality – at least enough to ensure that it would take many lawyers many years to unravel the situation. These guys don’t have lawyers or the millions necessary to procure them. Thus, they begin contemplating criminality again. Another visit to their old pal M. Jones (Jamie Foxx) fills them in a bit on the mechanics of kidnapping (or kidnaping, as a typo on the bulletin board would have it) Rex (Chris Pine), son of this businessman. Things spiral from there.
    Of course, the most complicated and intricate plot doesn’t necessarily matter in a comedy. Horrible Bosses 2 has several twists along the way, but by themselves they wouldn’t be enough to keep the viewer raptly engaged. Humor is required, and this movie has it. Some of the amusing stuff isn’t exactly fresh, and most of it is raunchy enough to earn that R rating and make me work hard at describing it while dealing with the swear filter, but enough of it works to ensure a good time.
    Part of that is definitely the leads, who are great at riffing on a variety of things and making their banter amusing. Bateman gets to play the straight man most of the time to Sudeikis and Day, which he does extremely well. These two have minimal attention spans and are constantly distracted by the simplest of things, making his frustration at their foolishness entirely understandable.
    Chris Pine interacts with the cast well, too. His character varies from scene to scene in keeping with the personality he wishes to display, and several scenes in which he bonds with the leads display how effectively he becomes part of the dynamic.
    Then there are the returning faces from the first. Jamie Foxx does what he did in the first movie, and is still good. Kevin Spacey only gets a little time (being in prison after the first film’s events accounts for that), but acquits himself well. Jennifer Aniston appears several times and is just as insatiably hungry for Charlie as she was before, but gets to interact with Jason Bateman a bit also. She’s good enough as an ostensible villain that one might wish for her to break out of the cookie-cutter romantic comedies a bit more.
    Lots of the humor is hard to recapture with words alone, but one bit near the beginning comes to mind. The leads are Nick, Kurt and Dale, and their business email is a combination of their names. When spoken quickly aloud, those names sound like something that would make a TV morning show host blink a lot at the very least. The movie has the sense to introduce this and then not overplay it, letting events proceed before running the gag into the ground.
    I don’t really see why this got slammed by so many reviews. It’s one of the better comedies of the year, and given that I’ve forgotten most of the first one this might actually be more memorable. Not a masterpiece, but delivers enough humor to be worth the time.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    Next of Kin (1989) is from the period when Patrick Swayze was a huge star. Not that he was ever a nobody, but he’s the lead in a movie with multiple people who would headline casts later. If only the movie was actually good… the laughable material is mostly waiting at the end, and the 107 minute run time leaves plenty of filler that could and should have been cut to make it slim.
    Swayze is Truman Gates, a Chicago bounty hunter displayed doing his job in an opening scene that is otherwise pointless. His younger brother (Bill Paxton) is employed elsewhere in the city and runs afoul of the mob. Seemingly because he’s supposed to be an idiot, the fool puts up a fight for an empty hauling truck. Having done so, he’s immediately identified as a hillbilly by saying “You ain’t takin’ my truck.” Sure. Only hillbillies would say that. Mobster Adam Baldwin executes the man, while the son of the head of the family looks on to get a baptism to his duties. That son is Ben Stiller, who doesn’t really do much in the movie but is nevertheless odd to see in a villainous role.
    With a dead brother, Truman has to go back to the hills of Kentucky for the funeral. There his wife (Helen Hunt) gets to blend awkwardly with the locals until she displays her excellent violinist skills, after which this element just vanishes. Older brother (Liam Neeson) is not happy that Truman is determined to find the perpetrators according to the law, and comes to town to carry out his own vendetta. All of this takes more time than it needs to occur, and numerous pointless scenes pad the running time before the whole clan appears from Kentucky to do battle with the mobsters in a Chicago cemetery for the ridiculous ending. Among the more pointless moments is Helen Hunt getting red paint tossed at her, which so disrupts her usual thought processes that she goes into the shower fully clothed while her husband fruitlessly calls around the house to find her, then stumbles onto the showering woman.
    Oh yeah, and the brothers have to get into a brawl over how greatly they differ on the means of apprehending the bad guys, because... just because.
    That ending does deserve notice though. It at first seems to indicate Truman’s entire plan was to take out the whole mob with a bow & arrow at night, something he was doing pretty well with at the start. Once the reinforcements arrive, we get a ludicrous sight of a mobster begging hound dogs to leave him alone once they’ve ‘treed’ him on top of an obelisk. An even more ridiculous bit stems from a man who drove all the way in a bus filled with snakes – all of them constrictors and what look like garter snakes, none of them the rattlers filling the soundtrack. The bus is then left with an open door for a mobster to wander into, and death by (not poisonous at all) snakes is the result.
    Revenge movies aren’t necessarily hard to do, but this is a garbled mess that isn’t even all that unintentionally funny until the conclusion. The out of print DVD is a pan & scan abomination too, though it’s clear the visuals aren’t going to win any awards. Swayze is good as usual, but of his 1989 movies there’s one that hasn’t faded into obscurity called Road House which deserves another viewing instead of this.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    The Dark Horse (1932) is a dark comedy which definitely wouldn’t be allowed under the Production Code, and offers further evidence of Warren William’s charisma in the fast-talking salesman role he could do so well. It also offers a cute young Bette Davis, though her role isn’t very substantial.
    The situation is this: at a Progressive party convention for an unnamed state, tempers are hot and patience is frayed after multiple ballots without a candidate for governor being decided. Bette Davis, ostensibly a secretary, brings out the idea of a compromise candidate in a smoke-filled back room where the party heads are hashing things over. This compromise candidate has a slight problem though: he’s an idiot. He’s introduced in the nomination hall, complaining to another delegate that his feet really hurt after having been in his shoes for 4 days straight - he proceeds to literally cut them off for relief at the suggestion of the fellow delegate. To the backroom operators, his introduction comes when he suggests a line against capital punishment – which struck down in this state six months prior. Yep, he’s a hard sell. Davis knows an operator who can sell anything though. The fact that he’s currently in jail (in the overnight cell) is no obstacle providing bail can be posted. This would be Warren William, naturally, and his specialty of fast talking is about to get another proof.
    Dealing with a fool, his tactics are quickly chosen and spread. The idea is to convince the public that the usual political tomfoolery will not take place once this man is governor, because he’s one of them. He’s a man of the people. The underlying principle is that, by being nearly as stupid as the least intelligent out there among the voters, he’ll be unthreatening and more convincing as an instrument for change. This can’t serve for the entire campaign, so William has the candidate memorize a speech by Abraham Lincoln – which he does, demonstrating a gift for recalling his instructions exactly. He even follows them with such precision that, when instructed to dive into the crowd at the actual debate, he attempts to do so during the practice session and needs to be prevented from dumping his empty head onto the hard floor.
    When the day comes for the speech to come out, the opposition candidate actually gives the same one! William is too canny to be caught out like that though, and calls the opposition on it.
    Of course this guy has a weakness, and it turns out to be the reason he was in jail: a not-quite-ex-wife whose demand for alimony is matched with a propensity to sic the law if it isn’t granted with the greatest of speed. Her introduction comes courtesy of the candidate, who is smitten and thus creates an opening for the other party, desperate to come out ahead. The eventual resolution is amusing and effective, something that would probably still work today if it could be pulled off.
    The conclusion is certainly funny, but also unlikely to have been admissible under the Code given its flouting of marriage’s sanctity. It also openly displays how easy it can be to fool the American people without granting a comeuppance to the perpetrator, hardly something the Code looked upon kindly. Poor Bette Davis doesn’t get to do much, but it’s a better role than some of her earliest acting. As for William, how this guy got to be a star for several years when his appearance and mannerisms would have consigned him to a recurring Western villain in another period still perplexes me – but he’s an entertaining guy to watch, no question.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    Lost in America (1985) is a fine piece of work from Albert Brooks. He’s a funny man, and this film features a lot of standout sequences. Non-fans of Brooks can skip it, because rather like Woody Allen he’s playing a variation of the same persona he usually does. For those who don’t know about him, it’s a great chance for discovery.
    The setup contrasts the idealism of the 60s with the yuppie mentality of the 80s. Brooks and wife Julie Hagerty have fallen into the yuppie trap of making lots of money without actually being invested in the things they do. Brooks is snapped out of when his boss at an advertising agency tells him that he’s not getting the vice president position he thought was a sure thing, and is instead going to relocate to New York so as to aid the company. Brooks snaps, and quits/is fired amid much harshness. He sells his wife on the idea of selling their entire inventory of possessions, putting the money into a Winnebago and traveling the country in that thing living off their nest egg. Except they make a stop in Las Vegas (to renew their wedding vows), and Hagerty proves a compulsive gambler, unable to resist the lure of temptation that the roulette tables offer. The nest egg is lost overnight, though Brooks makes a valiant attempt to convince the casino manager (Gerry Marshall) that giving all the money back would be an excellent PR campaign. He fails at doing so, but the effort is quite amusing.
    Analyzing a comedy is tricky, because the most important question is whether I laughed. Since I laughed many times while watching, and can remember the pertinent scenes clearly, it must be said that this is memorably funny. I strongly suspected I would find it funny based on my viewing of Modern Romance, another Albert Brooks movie that I found memorably funny.
    Most of the humor is dialogue-based, but a few gags are partly visual: hearing “Born to be Wild” play when a Winnebago takes off onto the highway is a good example of the latter. For dialogue, his reaming of Hagerty is pretty funny, starting with his learning of what happened to the money: “Why didn’t you tell me when we were married that you had a gambling problem? It’s like having a venereal disease, you tell someone!” Or an encounter with a policeman on the road that might have ended up with a speeding ticket they can’t really afford, but a shared love of Easy Rider breaks the ice – and the encounter ends with Brooks telling the policeman that he should see The Terminator, they seem to have a lot in common. Later, when he and his wife look for work in the Arizona town they happen to stop in, the reaction of a job office worker to hearing Brooks’ former salary is really funny. Brooks’ style is not showy, and that lets the situations play out effectively without any obtrusive techniques.
    The laughs keep coming and the movie ends before its momentum can falter, so I don’t have much else to say. It’s an effective comedy that says a lot about the American mentality of the mid-80s, and does it well.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) is the rare movie that feels too short. The story of Moses is a lengthy one, and this cuts out enough material to make numerous things feel poorly established. That doesn’t make it a terrible movie, but it is disappointing. This is also leaving aside the matter of how faithful it is to the Biblical source material, something I am ill-qualified to judge but know is not total even so.
    Moses (Christian Bale) is the adoptive brother of soon-to-be-Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), treated as the Pharaoh’s son by the current ruler (John Turturro) in all respects. Except that, on an excursion to learn what the overseer of the Hebrew slaves does in his station, Moses hears something different from Nun (Ben Kingsley). Apparently he was a Hebrew by birth, set adrift on the river and taken into the Pharaoh’s household. He angrily dismisses this possibility by attacking and killing two Egyptian soldiers immediately after hearing it, but circumstances eventually push him into a situation where now-Pharaoh Ramses must institute exile. Moses crosses the Red Sea and takes a wife over there, but nine years of peace is upended when visions compel him to go back to Egypt and attempt to lead the Hebrews away from slavery. God plays a big hand in this, and Ramses lets them go after much misery and death. Ramses is so enraged that he decides to institute a slaughter anyway, but the Hebrews are able to cross the Red Sea while its tides are parted. Then there’s something about some stone tablet with instructions for how to live – Commandments are not named as such, but that’s probably what we’re dealing with. The ending is an odd choice for where to stop, not the natural conclusion of this story.
    I won’t go into the ways in which this veers from the Biblical tale – that was the choice of the screenwriters and director Ridley Scott to do, and having Moses be a known commander in the Egyptian army so that he can come back and orchestrate a guerilla fight against the enslavers is at least unique. Even so, this is the rare movie that needed to be longer to better do its tale justice. By starting when Moses and Ramses are already adults, it grants perhaps 1 minute of screen time to quickly laying out the bald fact that they love each other like brothers before things start getting in the way. Rather than showing it to the viewer as they grew up together, we’re told this fact and asked to swallow it. Hearing second-hand from someone who knew how Moses was saved from death as a baby packs much less impact than seeing it happen. Later in the movie, the time sense gets hard to follow in spots, and events that I thought took a long time pass pretty quickly. Moses is inexplicably an old man in the final two minutes or so, for no good reason when all he does is look out of a conveyance.
    Then we have the movie’s depiction of God: a British-accented male child. I’m not quite sure how this was intended to come across, maybe by making even a child into something threatening, but it doesn’t really work. Sure the kid is okay, but his accent set 3300 years ago feels wrong (not that anybody would have had a British accent 3300 years ago, at least not in the modern sense). As far as representations of God that are supposed to inspire awe or respect in the viewer, this kid fails.
    Ridley Scott at the helm means this is a good-looking movie for the most part. A couple of special effects sequences stand out from the usual competence of the CGI by their poorness: one with a fellow standing in a river of blood where he doesn’t mesh with the CG red water at all, and another where many Egyptian chariots are falling off a steep cliff and the visual quality takes a nosedive. Most of the time the effects are perfectly decent CGI though, which means they don’t impress me much and don’t look real but get the job done. Aside from an early army battle with Hittites that isn’t going to rank among the great combat scenes of film, the effects come out for the plagues and the sea parting.
    Intriguingly, most of the filming seems to have been done in the Canary Islands. The difficulty of keeping a massive film crew safe in Egypt must have been judged too high. Other filming seems to have been done in Quebec, not the first place most people are likely to think of when Biblical themes are being discussed.
    There’s an odd, poorly-pursued theme of attempting a non-spiritual explanation for most of the things that happen in the movie. Having Moses’ first glimpse of God be after a rockslide that buried him in mud and had a rock hit his temple is certainly one way of doing it, and hints of him talking to an invisible person take place when he later converses with the kid. There’s also a commentator at the Egyptian royal court who attempts to concoct scientific explanations for each of the plagues – or at least I think that’s what the goal is, given the very contemporary method of his speech. He’s forgotten when all the first born are killed though, and is actually left aside for the hailstorm too.
    I didn’t hate this movie, nor did I intensely dislike it. I was disappointed though. A lot of money was clearly thrown at the screen to make this happen, and the result isn’t good enough to like or bad enough to remember with clarity. Plenty of scenes seem to have been edited out – the fact that Sigourney Weaver is in the movie and has maybe 6 lines total is an argument for that. Christian Bale is mostly okay as Moses, but it’s not among the more memorable performances in his filmography. Nor is this anything like a highlight for Ridley Scott.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited December 2014
    16 ½ years after I first saw it, the time had come to revisit something that I hadn’t thought about much through the years. Godzilla (1998) prompted a lot of negativity at the time, and then not much thought afterwards. Its blatant sequel tag has been ignored, and I don’t mind. Sure it’s not the worst movie ever made, but that doesn’t make it GOOD. Even by Roland Emmerich standards, this isn’t good.
    One thing that has aged ABYSMALLY is the CGI. Whenever Godzilla (or just Zilla, which I find myself preferring) is in a shot with humans, it’s incredibly obvious that the CG was added later, and its artificiality is so blatant that no one will be fooled. Otherwise we have standard explosions and things blowing up a lot, while the physical locations are unimpressive and evince no real interest. Most of this murky movie takes place in rainy New York locations like – rainy streets, waterlogged subway tunnels, generic office and apartment buildings, a run-down warehouse, and a boring stadium.
    Then there are the characters. Matthew Broderick’s Nick Tatopoulos is dull, and the actor doesn’t enliven it much. Maria Patillo’s Audrey is cute but not a whole lot more, though I think she did what she could with an underwritten role. Jean Reno’s French secret agent deserved more screen time, or at least a better script to make something with actual potential come alive instead of being a disappointment. Hank Azaria’s cameraman has nothing particularly interesting about him, nor does Harry Shearer’s newsman (though hearing him announce the news might make one think of Kent Brockman).
    Oh yes, and Mayor Ebert along with his aide Gene… what a world. I have no idea what Roland Emmerich was thinking here, except that the unfavorable-yet-hardly-offensive reviews those two wrote and said regarding Stargate and Independence Day somehow raised his ire. Making them actual characters (who are blundering blowhards) smacks of arrogance. As Siskel remarked at the time, why not go further and have them get squashed by Godzilla instead of just making boneheaded decisions? Ebert remarked at the time that his only wish after inspiring a character in a Godzilla movie was to have characters in something by Bergman read his reviews to each other in a hushed tone. He deserves to have that wish granted sometime by someone, in memoriam.
    Giant monster movies don’t have the tightest of scripts in the world as a rule, but this movie doesn’t even try. ‘Zilla shows up, breaks some stuff and then hides in the subway. In addition to the usual complaint about this (the New York subway tunnels are THAT big?), I have to wonder WHERE THE HELL WAS EVERYONE LOOKING? This is a GIANT MONSTER THAT HAS KILLED HUNDREDS, and NO ONE WAS LOOKING TO BE SURE WHERE IT WAS NEXT GOING TO STEP? No. This is junk. Let alone to have it happen AGAIN. Oh, but that’s after the military did a great job shooting up New York. Obviously no one would be looking to see where the monster went after that fracas.
    I never knew home pregnancy tests would be applicable to reptiles. Roland Emmerich movies are full of great scientific facts, and this one deserves greater recognition. Also, that the military uses heat-seeking missiles by default, and would not consider switching inventory considering the lack of engines to target. Also, that the US navy’s submarine crews have torpedoes somehow able to target a biological organism but not able to shut down before friendly fire occurs. Also, the entire resources of the federal government of the United States are inadequate to analyze a reptilian thing partially created with radiation, thus requiring a civilian to be grabbed from Chernobyl to fill the gap.
    Oh yes, and I would be remiss to wonder why Emmerich felt the need to rip off Jurassic Park so blatantly. Baby Godzillas that leap in the air and come crashing through doors? It’s a much shoddier version of the Velociraptor than the one Spielberg used, but it’s there.
    Earlier this year we got an actual Godzilla movie. This ‘Zilla thing is many things, but a Godzilla movie it is not. Aside from one outline of the monster apparently having crashed through a building, this big lizard never smashes through skyscrapers like Godzilla does without a backward glance. No, it runs along the streets and actually tries to avoid obstacles. Bullets and missiles hurt it. It has no personality – even in the worst of his movies, the big G had a personality.
    I revisited it mostly because of Rifftrax recently taking it on, and was indeed rewarded by the commentary throughout. The movie without Mike, Kevin and Bill is a boring overlong slog. There are plenty of ways to make entertaining monster movies. This one studiously avoids those ways.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited January 2015
    Presenting Lily Mars (1943) offers the interesting pairing of Judy Garland and Van Heflin, in a musical that is a little more realistic than many. It also features some of that operatic-style pop inexplicably popular in the 30s and early 40s that assaults my ears nowadays, but is mostly a fun tale of a would-be actress trying to make it big. Believable? Not really, but it doesn’t matter too much.
    Lily Mars (Garland) is a young, aspiring actress in a small Indiana town. She thinks she’s got an in because John Thornway (Van Heflin) is back in his hometown for a little while, and he’s a stage director of considerable renown. Doing a favor for Lily’s mother, John’s mother sneaks his current script away so that he’ll have to visit in order to reacquire the thing. Doing this means putting up with Lily giving a performance – and for an opportunity to see Judy Garland doing the part of Lady Macbeth badly, this is one-of-a-kind. John puts her down in a nicer way than he could have, but nevertheless gets out of there as quickly as possible. Lily is persistent though, and enlists her youngest sister to try a different kind of performance in front of his office window – that of a bereft woman with a child to care for. John isn’t impressed except in a negative way, threatening to take Lily over his knee and give her a spanking if he comes upon her again, but the performance is taken as real when seen by the playwright. His observation may have been an accident, but it affects how he views Lily for a long time to come. Lily’s next attempt to intercept Thornway takes place at an evening gala taking place at his mother’s spacious property, and while she initially escapes his notice the sight of her doing everything possible to avoid his threat being carried out is pretty funny.
    Despite her repeated interactions not bringing anything like a sweeping appraisal of her actress talents, Lily accepts the generosity of her family so she can travel to New York and attempt to actually make it into the cast of Thornway’s newest production. This is not accomplished easily- attempting to sweet-talk her way past the backstage watchman produces this exchange:
    “Y’see I, I know Mr. Thorny.
    Do you now?
    His father brought me into the world.
    Did he now? Well if you bother the son during rehearsal he’ll do just the opposite for you.”
    From there Lily manages to get in but has to sleep in the theater a night, until she’s spotted come the morning by John and he takes pity on her, feeding her lunch and taking her to a boarding house used by actors. Of course, this additional attention does not sit well with the temperamental star of the show. John finds himself falling for Lily, and she eventually gets the chance to be on the stage after all as a chambermaid in the play.
    By Judy Garland standards, this is an interesting project. Most of her work got the Technicolor treatment with fairly large production numbers, but this is black & white with very subdued songs – save the finale. Judy isn’t always the one singing either, although since the other performer is in the Jeanette McDonald vein of operatic pop ditties, her stuff can be completely ignored by those who dislike it, such as me. Judy first sings when fleeing from Van Heflin at the evening party, where she sits in with the performing musicians for a quick number as a distraction. She sings again while bereft in the empty theater at night, joined by a cleaning lady who once also entertained dreams of the stage. She gets a couple of other numbers at a spacious New York nightclub, and one more for the finale while Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra provide the backing. All are performed as befits Judy Garland, who was only 21 when this came out and not yet jaded/scarred by the turns her life would soon take.
    Part of the reason I wanted to see this is for Van Heflin, whose sardonic attitude is generally a blast to see. He does well, and the earliest parts are helped greatly by his delivery of the material. “’But – may I say something?’ I know of no way of stopping you.’” Later acts of his character strain credibility a bit, but such is the nature of a musical, and nothing too egregiously off-putting takes place.
    The ending is odd. It initially seems to be taking a more realistic tack to the usual way actors get stardom, through perseverance and hard work. That tested badly with audiences though, so a new number takes place that indicates Lily was an overnight success after all. Doesn’t make much sense, but script logic is not something I necessary demand from my musicals. It’s got an amusing script and an appealing lead duo with some well-done numbers. It’s fun.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited January 2015
    Deathdream (1973) is an early effort from Bob Clark, who would soon direct Black Christmas and eventually A Christmas Story. Also things I haven’t seen, such as Porky’s and Baby Geniuses. Among horror movies it seems to have something of a following, though why is hard for me to determine. Sure, it’s got some Vietnam subtext, and it’s not hard to grapple with. It presents a pile of morons and a lackluster pace, along with some baffling elements that don’t make any sense. What has given it such an audience over the years? I have no idea.
    The scenario is that a young man was serving in Vietnam, and got killed in a dark and muddled scene at the beginning of the movie. His mother in particular seems to have been really attached, and after getting the notification from the Pentagon of his death … something happens. Supposedly Monkey’s Paw logic is at play here, but the only thing that seems to happen is that his mother really really wants her son back. No other explanation for what happens is provided.
    Son comes back though, after hitching a ride with a friendly big rig driver who doesn’t survive the trip. Once home, he acts different and mostly hangs around upstairs in a rocking chair. His father is concerned – imagine that! – when his son doesn’t act like the same person and seems to be implicated in the death of that driver. Unfortunately the father is also an idiot who reacts by being angry all the time. One might think that, after the son killed the family dog, people would listen. Nope, mother is a moron. Eventually a bar-visiting father starts talking to the town doctor, and after a long series of events, the logical conclusion that must result when this is brought into the picture results. Here we learn that the son apparently needs to take blood from the doctor to replenish himself. Whether his state of undeath is accelerating or he just wasn’t taking enough blood from victims, the guy needs to wear sunglasses the next day to cover up his decomposition around the eyes. His old girlfriend is just as much an idiot as his parents and sister, because off to the drive-in he goes with barely a backward glance. Her fate thereafter ought to surprise no one.
    The conclusion is where things get bizarre. Dad dies from a self-inflicted gunshot, sister… her fate is unclear. Mom though, mom takes this ghoul along for a car ride. For some reason a policeman firing at the car causes its tailpipe to catch fire, a sight that gets more obvious with subsequent shots that do nothing else save take out the back windshield. Finally mom is guided to the cemetery, where her undead son descends into a random open grave and refuses to get up again.
    This description makes it sound like things are constantly happening, but that’s not really accurate. Spending time with the characters in this movie is quite a chore when they’re so uniformly stupid, and that’s what happens most of the time. Waiting for things to happen is a state best illustrated by the appearance of the doctor – it is a LONG time before he’s finally killed.
    Sure, there’s Vietnam subtext a-plenty to dig into if that’s your gig. Digging into that might actually be more interesting than watching what transpires on the screen. The state of the undead son near the end is an interesting makeup job but otherwise nothing nifty, and gorehounds will find little of interest. The picture quality isn’t that good either, though some of that doubtless stems from the low budget it had. What does that leave? For me, nothing much.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited January 2015
    Beauty for the Asking (1939) is interesting mostly because it shows that Lucille Ball was a really good dramatic actress when asked to be. The movie surrounding her here is nothing special, in fact it feels like a relic from a few years before when sound equipment was still a temperamental gadget that needed careful coddling. Its script is deeply muddled and the pacing is more that of a dreary drama despite (I think) being intended as a comedy. It feels longer than the 62 minute length, too. I can’t exactly recommend it for its own merits, but the movie was nevertheless kind of interesting, mostly due to seeing Lucy’s work.
    The opening illustrates how weird the tone is. Lucy hasn’t been seen yet, and the male lead Patrick Knowles (who thinks he’s Errol Flynn, but can’t get away with it due to his smarminess) is concluding an arrangement with a rich woman to marry her. Then we do meet Lucy, who works with her roommate in a beauty/massage parlor. Her boyfriend comes back, and he’s the guy who was planning to marry into money. The dialogue during the conversation where he breaks this to her is interesting:
    “Well, it isn’t easy.
    Well go on, this isn’t easy either.
    I found someone else.
    You’re not joking, because, well, pe-people just don’t joke about things like that.
    I met someone else, and I couldn’t help myself.
    After 3 years, you met someone else and couldn’t help yourself.”
    This is played straight, and it’s not exactly a humorous situation. Lucy’s feelings are trampled down, but she does her best to persevere anyway. Now is where the goofiness starts to intrude, as her plan is for a new fragrance that will take hold in the perfume market. This requires seeking out financers, and is where the other male lead (whose screen time and presence are unremarkable) comes into play, as a fashion photographer who thinks she’s a model at first. Getting the money eventually causes things to go full circle, as it must be borrowed from the jerk who left Lucy in the first place and is now wealthy thanks to his wife. Eventually he tries going back to Lucy, whose enthusiasm is rekindled until she proposes giving back all the money he got through marriage to make clear that they really are in love. He balks, and the ending is kinda funny. Still more interesting from a historical perspective than anything else though.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited November 2015
    Miami Connection (1987) is easily one of the least coherent messes I've seen recently. It's hilarious to have it end with a black screen on which the text "only through the elimination of violence can we achieve world peace" appears after all the violence that just took place. Still, I laughed at it quite a bit.

    That band is Dragon Sound. It plays at an Orlando (not Miami) club, for some reason permanently displacing another band. A member of Dragon Sound is dating a girl through their mutual alma mater of Central Florida University, and her brother is not happy with that. He's part of a gang in cahoots with ninjas to snare huge quantities of cocaine. A couple of run-ins with Dragon Sound make clear that they don't like these guys, but when the band displaced at the club comes forward and offers whatever it can earn just to get its gig back, well, that's all we need! Throw in a couple of music sequences, a gratuitous sequence on a Florida beach leering at ladies in their swimwear, and the touching story of keyboardist Jim maybe getting to meet the father he's never known! Plus a gratuitous tae kwon do sequence to establish where these band members learned to fight.
    Why yes, there is a lot of fighting in this movie. Several surprisingly bloody bits take place in the midst of it, but mostly it's choreographed stuff beholden to the old rules of adversaries taking on the good guys one at a time. The ninjas are in the black full-body suits and fight with katanas and shurikens, because why not. Several moves get shown off via old-fashioned slow-mo that looks like a tape playing at slow speed instead of bullet time. Many anonymous assailants are dispatched. There's a lot of it, and the guys look like they can actually do the moves, but it's amusing instead of exciting.
    Editing is bad. Dialogue delivery is atrocious even when ADR is blatantly obvious. The story is nonsensical and incoherent. The music not performed by the band is 80s synth that dates the thing immediately, if the hairstyles and outfits didn't already manage it. Still, I laughed at it a lot. "He will not escape the Miami ninja!" is not a line I've ever heard before.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited January 2015
    An American Hippie in Israel (1972) is another colossal mess of a movie. The title alone is a good gauge of what's to come, though seeing that it was only made possible by a grant from the Israeli film council is somewhat amusing at the end.
    Our hippie is Mike. He's going to Israel for some reason, and upon exiting the airport he hitchhikes from Elizabeth, who is an aspiring stage actress. She takes him to the now-empty family home, and after some so-banal-it's-dull dialogue ("I'm a hippie because it works for me" is a good example), they get it on in the middle of the living room. Here we get to see that she sunbathes without taking off everything - very pale places on her body. Mike is pursued, or maybe followed, or maybe he's just hallucinating that a couple of people dressed like blue mimes get in his path. He and Elizabeth take off and have a singalong somewhere in Israel for a long time before these two blue mimes show up and gun down most of them. No matter though! Mike, Elizabeth and a pair of other Israeli hippies take off for an extended road trip around the scenic landscapes. This includes some psychedelic imagery where a couple of people with giant tape recorders for heads get slowly bashed in the head with a hammer, but also includes lots of deep dialogue and extended scenes of frolicking. Also boinking, because why not? Hippies are horny.
    That's a good sample of what most of this movie is like. If it looks like something you want to see more of, good for you! I won't try again.
    The conclusion is deeply symbolic and falls flat on its face, though the idea is easy to understand. The hippies start fighting with each other and are eventually reduced to subhuman grunts as they fight over a goat that has wandered into their deserted rocky beach area, all falling over dead from the conflict. Then the two blue mime guys overlooking the horror get into their station wagon and drive away. Deep. In another script it might even amount to something, but here it comes after an hour of boring hippie happenings.
    It may be from the early 70s, but this would have fit right in with many other late 60s movies that have aged like food left in an inoperative refrigerator. If you weren't there at the time, don't expect it to taste the same.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited January 2015
    The Gambler (2014) is a very interesting movie. It’s a character study of a man named John Bennett (Mark Wahlburg) who invents his own problems, presumably because he doesn’t have enough. That makes him an odd duck, and one it’s hard to even come close to liking. He’s interesting though, most of the time at least.
    So what’s Mr. Bennett’s problem? It’s entirely self-inflicted: gambling debt. He protests several times that he’s not really a gambler, and that’s true enough if one is looking at his life as a whole. This guy is nevertheless making up for lost time with a vengeance. In the opening scene he casually tosses tens of thousands away at a Korean gambling establishment in southern California, then takes more money from a loan shark in order to partially pay back the casino while plugging the rest into fresh bets. A few members of the clientele are impressed when he’s made $80,000 with a few blackjack bets, only to lose it all on a single hand. That’s the kind of guy we’re dealing with here. Later he’ll try getting money from another unscrupulous source (John Goodman), who is at least his dependably entertaining self during limited screen time.
    Next we see Mr. Bennett at his day job, which appears to be Professor of Literature at an unnamed university. It’s a full class, and he says some interesting things in the lecture. Among them is pointing out the only genius writer in a hall with perhaps 150 students, Brie Larson. While his lecture is certainly unusual and would be very likely to keep the students awake, his dismissive manner of almost everyone’s writing ability is unlikely to pass muster even for a tenured professor. Then again, we’ve already established that this is not a man worried about consequences, so it fits. The next time his classroom is seen, at least 75% of the first-day students are gone, so his method clearly had consequences.
    Mr. Bennett’s mother (Jessica Lange) is understandably disgusted with her son’s behavior. It’s standard policy with loan sharks to try collecting from a relation if the debtor isn’t paying up, and her iron will is not quite proof against being threatened for the bad deeds of a relative. It IS proof against offering ‘whatever it takes’ to get him out of trouble, particularly when it’s so obviously a self-inflicted wound.
    So, what’s this guy’s problem? He doesn’t try very hard to articulate it, but on the one occasion when somebody gets anything firm out of him on the subject, it seems to be a desire to have something real. He doesn’t consider the many facets making up his existence as real, and is seeking something genuine through gambling. It’s probably for the best that this line of thought isn’t pursued very far, because it’d be worthy of a philosophy text to try articulating such a thing in a concrete manner.
    Dealing with gangsters might cause this to bump up against a variety of genres, and some violence does indeed erupt. Not a great deal though. Most of what does take place is directed at Mr. Bennett, whose blithe attitude toward the consequences of being in debt to people who will extract what they are owed by any means necessary means that attempts to gain his attention must be sudden and unpleasant. It’s not an action movie though.
    John Goodman’s screen time is limited, but it’s vast compared to the cameos of George Kennedy and Andre Braugher. This movie might have been longer in the editing room. It doesn’t feel drastically curtailed as-is, but most of the supporting cast doesn’t have enough time to come alive.
    It's based on an earlier movie from 1974, at least in the bare essentials. That movie which starred James Caan was in turn based on a Dostoevski novel in some way. Not having read the novel or seen the earlier version I can't say much about them except that they exist, which may be enough.
    This is an interesting movie throughout, though its protagonist is damn hard to empathize with. Near the end come some difficult to swallow elements that I can’t go into here, though I can say that no matter how happy a person is, running through most of LA in dressy shoes is going to leave a nasty mark. The conclusion is problematic, but even so I was absorbed in getting there.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited November 2015
    Tommy (1975) is anarchic insanity. No one who dislikes the Who’s music should even consider seeing it. Those who feel like some truly outlandish stuff scored to rocking tunes and haven’t seen this ought to get on the bus though.
    Taken strictly as a story, Tommy is silly and hard to swallow. That was true of the album, and it’s even more true of the movie. Then again, opera stories often rely on the Deux ex Machina contrivance, so Pete Townshend was in keeping with his chosen idea. What we have is a boy named Tommy (played as an adult with zero subtlety by Roger Daltrey) who experiences something traumatic as a child and is struck deaf, dumb and blind. He endures horrific things in this state but eventually discovers an amazing aptitude for the game of pinball, which makes his mother (Ann Margret) even more determined to break through his psychological block. Doing this turns him into a star, but the public is fickle and abandons its celebrity with great dispatch.
    Ken Russell directed this, and in concert with Pete Townshend scripted some crazy stuff to accompany the music. Things such as a cult worshipping Marilyn Monroe (selectively captured at the point when her skirt blew up), Tommy being abused by relatives in brutal fashion, Ann Margret being sprayed with baked beans and chocolate from a smashed television set, and a sarcophagus decked out like an iron maiden in which the boy is baptized into manhood are just some of the insanity.
    Operatic style means wall-to-wall singing. We know Roger Daltrey can do it, and Ann Margret is surprisingly emotive, but Oliver Reed even manages to do a decent bit as Tommy’s adoptive father. Then there are the cameos: Eric Clapton as a cult leader, Tina Turner as the Acid Queen, Elton John as the Pinball Wizard, and Jack Nicholson as the Specialist. Who knew Jack could sing rather well? I sure didn’t.
    This isn’t necessarily a great rock movie, but the category of rock opera movie is so underpopulated that it by default rises somewhere near the top. Even if there were more entrants to that classification this would be a standout for its insanity. Some of the songs are less captivating here than they were on the album, but the visual accompaniments make all of them memorable at the very least. Synthesizers populate the instruments throughout, but that doesn’t make this sound dated because Pete Townshend was using synths on Who albums of that period as well. John Entwistle and Keith Moon also play parts in the movie, with Moon's rendition of Uncle Ernie quite intimidating. It's a time capsule, a Who document, and a gleefully crazy musical.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited January 2015
    I don’t think I’ve talked about the Hobbit movies until now, when the trilogy has been concluded with The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014). It was a long ride, and not as consistently rewarding as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It had a lot of good stuff, true. It was also ill-served by being made into THREE movies with a combined running time of somewhere around 8 ½ hours. Two movies that top out around 4 ½ hours would have been a better decision. Since we’re stuck with this mammoth enterprise though, I have to deal with a whole lot of Hobbit.
    I’ll start with editing decisions that could have happened, such as drastically cutting down the introduction to the dwarves in the first movie. It took over half an hour before anyone left the Shire, something that should have gone pretty quickly. The shenanigans in Mirkwood were kinda fun, and the escape from the goblin king was also well-done. Then we move to part 2, and while it was nice to see Legolas again having him jump into a CG action sequence on the river didn’t need to happen. Smaug as voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch is a worthy adversary, but the extended running around inside the mountain as the dwarves do nothing but tick him off could have been trimmed drastically. It was fun for a little while, but the dragon just went on a pyromancy spree after his conversation with Bilbo in the book, and drawing out the proceedings serves no real purpose here.
    Then we reach the third movie, where Smaug turns Lake Town into a flaming ruin and gets killed for his trouble. While Stephen Fry is fun to see, his character’s denouement here (after taking up a lot of time in the second movie) served no purpose whatsoever and could have been completely eliminated. Pompous, greedy, cowardly Major of the town is a jerk and gets killed by the dragon – there, I have summed everything that involved him into a single sentence. There’s also the not-so-touching dwarf-elf romance, which never moved me enough to remember either participant’s name. Evangeline Lilly’s Elf had a name with seven letters that started with T, but despite hearing it repeatedly I still can’t recall…. Attempting to make characters instead of ciphers out of Bard’s family is also a failure, they just eat up screen time.
    Having launched some digs, there were good parts. The escape from the goblin king and the action sequence with the Orcs on wargs at the end of the first one was pretty good. The battle of the five armies is executed well, even if it’s obvious CG at points. Thorin Oakenshield’s dilemma is painted effectively in the third film, and his character arc is touching.
    The rest of the dwarves, though, still come across mostly as ciphers. To be fair, this is probably how Tolkien viewed them when he wrote the thing – a short book written for children is not going to paint a deep character portrait of 13 different characters, and the names they have do not help in distinguishing these individuals. They still don’t make much of an impression here. Half of it comes from the actors portraying them at least having different faces and voices, but personality is not something these dwarves possess in abundance.
    This movie comes with a scene that didn’t need to be there at all, but is cool to see. Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman rescue Gandalf from the Necromancer. Elrond and Saruman duel with the not-quite-Nazgul while Galadriel summons enough power to banish Sauron back to the east. Hearing Christopher Lee intone “You should’ve stayed dead” when doing battle is pretty cool. Hugo Weaving doesn’t get to spout any one-liners like that, but seeing Elrond kitted for battle is still nifty.
    Fitting the Hobbit into the style of the Lord of the Rings main series was an interesting endeavor, and some of the stuff inserted to fill out what was a short book is good. A lot of it isn’t, and taking a meat cleaver to the thing would have been a really good idea. I was restless in my seat numerous times while watching these movies, and that didn’t happen with the Lord of the Rings. Of course, if Peter Jackson does decide to adapt something from the Silmarillion, I’d still go see it. I'm incorrigible.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited January 2015
    One Million Years B.C. (1966) is a very stupid movie, one that … well, it doesn’t make the original One Million B.C. look smart by comparison. That would be an easy task, but somehow it fails. This one does sport some cool Ray Harryhausen effects, and some very well-groomed cavewomen. There is nothing else worth watching.
    Certainly the script is no marvel. After a narrator fills the audience in on a couple of things, everyone in the movie resorts to cavepeople speak. If hearing “oog,” “ugh,” “ah,” and various grunting is your idea of timeless dialogue, you’re in for a treat. Otherwise there’s nothing to warrant keeping an ear peeled.
    Our story is that a caveman is separated from his tribe, finds another one, takes a mate from it and goes back to his original tribe to fight over the separation. Then a caveman war almost erupts until an erupting volcano turns everything sepia for the last minute and it ends on an extremely unsatisfying note. Am I forgetting anything? Only the creature attacks that are both the best part of the movie and completely unnecessary to the script. Oh yes, and Raquel Welch sporting nice makeup and body grooming habits for someone this far in the past. All the cavewomen are in great shape actually, which is a revelation to anthropologists seeking information about early humans.
    Those creatures are mostly dinosaurs, although a photographically enlarged tarantula which is menacing a cricket turns up. There is also a giant sea turtle, which responds to the hail of rocks sent its way by the stupid cavepeople by snapping at them. No wonder, I would too. Eventually it gets into the sea and swims away, which it would have done much earlier if all those cretins hadn’t antagonized the poor creature.
    Later what seems to be an allosaurus attacks the cavepeople, although it’s not much bigger than a man. There is also a duel between a triceratops and a ceratosaurus, plus a pterodactyl that grabs Raquel Welch and wants to feed its newly hatched young with her. Seeing these creatures is nifty, because Ray Harryhausen imbued them with some semblance of personality. Moreso than the humans, that’s for sure. Have an example, and try to pay attention to the people.
    I could quibble that the Ceratosaurus sounds suspiciously like a cat in places... but it's still cool to see.
    In the annals of stupid movies through the ages, this is one. It doesn’t pretend to be more than what it is, and no one will ever confuse it with something intended to do more than grab money from foolish teenage males intoxicated with the sight of women in fur bikinis. Having said that, looking at the poster grants about as much value as seeing the whole movie.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited February 2015
    The Gunfighter (1950) is one of the earliest psychological Westerns, starring an actor not usually associated with that style: Gregory Peck. He wears a period-authentic mustache throughout, and Darryl Zanuck apparently blamed the movie’s lack of box office legs on that facial hair. Seen 65 years later though, this is a strong movie with a good lead. It might have been adapted to TV pretty easily, but not having a wide scope is hardly a problem when things work.
    Johnny Ringo (Peck) has entered town, and he intends to stay a little while until one woman in particular has a chance to speak with him. This unsettles his old friend the town sheriff (Millard Mitchell) quite a bit, because his job is to keep the peace and wannabe hotshots out to make a name for themselves are certain to try starting trouble. Ringo has no desire to kill, but as was made clear in the opening scene, hot-headed young men often force him to choose between his own life and death. That opening scene resulted in a dead man with three brothers, whom Ringo disarmed and left on foot in the desert – but they want him. There’s also an older man who blames Ringo for the death of his son and will be dissuaded by no means from waiting to take a shot. A young hotshot wishes to test himself against the legendary gunfighter, also. All the boys in town play hooky from school to see this legend of the West, and all the proper ladies sniff loudly that somebody should DO something. The bartender (Karl Malden) is just fine with having a legend in his establishment though – it’ll be great for business.
    Gregory Peck was not the greatest emoter among Hollywood actors, but he could play this kind of role superbly. Johnny Ringo is not a man who relishes killing, and frankly he wishes that he could go back to the life of relative anonymity he knew years before, but accepts where he is now. He also respects the wishes of his friend and has no desire to start anything, but will not lay down and die if it comes to that kind of a choice. Still, he prefers to disarm those who come after him rather than kill if at all possible.
    There are slight similarities to High Noon here, in that this movie seems to take place pretty much in real time. That movie would also be a nuanced take on the Western tradition, one that the public did not embrace at the time. Johnny Ringo is a killer after all, one who admits to killing 14 men and might have killed more earlier in life. He is also a man who wants to let that fact go by the wayside and achieve some kind of peace with the rest of his life, with the woman he loved years before and who still seems to have feelings for him. Is it wrong for this man to get that? He talks of letting things settle down by going into hiding before coming back to be with the family he’s never had a chance to know. Western clich
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited November 2015
    Remember? (1939) sports a promising premise for a screwball comedy that it wastes. The tone is confused throughout and while the lines might seem funny on paper, something about them just doesn’t work in practice. A fine cast is wasted, and director Robert Z. Leonard turns in one of the few clunkers I’ve seen from him.
    Our premise is that a businessman (Lew Ayres) has just returned from a trip to the Bahamas with a fiancee
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited February 2015
    Seven Days Leave (1942) is another I watched for Lucille Ball. It’s Victor Mature’s movie more than anyone else’s though, and he’s pretty good in it. Lucy, when she does appear, is a knockout and gets one very memorable sequence. Victor is the star though.
    As the title indicate, he’s on leave from the Army, after an opening sequence in which he and his pals make fun like no active servicemen ever get to do with their NCOs. The scenario is one of those silly throwaways: to receive the monies promised from a will, Victor has to marry a descendant of a certain family within a time limit. It’s an old Civil War disagreement, with his side having been on the Union and hers on the Confederate. Of course, she’s got a fianc
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited February 2015
    An Affair to Remember (1957) is one of a very few times when a director has remade his own movie. The cast can’t be faulted – Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr were some of the most photogenic people ever. What I didn’t care for about Love Affair is still here though, only accentuated because the story is half an hour longer now. I’ve seen plenty of ‘chick flicks’ that I liked. This isn’t one of them.
    A playboy man and a quiet woman meet each other on a cruise, get to know each other, and get to really like each other. This is cemented when his mother meets the woman on a stopover at an Atlantic island, and they agree to meet at the Empire State building as a test of their newfound love. Oh no, something goes wrong on her end, and rather than tell a worried man what happened she opts to disappear and try the healing process first.
    I know, I know, I’m supposed to find the idea of a woman caring SO MUCH for this guy that she doesn’t want to spoil his picture of her in sound body a romantic notion. Well, I don’t. It’s a gimmick I cannot get behind in one iota. Being hit by a car is not something you keep from people who care about you.
    As a widescreen movie, this one has lots of space to fill, and it does so with pretty images that are certainly nice to behold. It also fills time by having Deborah Kerr be a lounge singer, which means several musical numbers completely inessential to the plot that are dubbed by Marni Nixon because Kerr was not a strong singer. One of these is a children’s choir, in which director Leo McCarey makes the unwise choice to hold on some of the kids long enough to observe that they are not good lip-sync artists and also not good actors.
    Mostly though, where I wasn’t floored by Love Affair, I’m still not floored by An Affair to Remember. The potential for this idea being done well exists, and maybe the 1994 Warren Beatty version does that. I have no desire to ever see this story as realized by Leo McCarey again. Interesting dialogue and intriguing characters are a principal ingredient of what I like in romances, and this might have those if the pace wasn’t so anemic that quadrupling its speed would still be insufficient to make it feel like things are happening.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited February 2015
    Selma (2014) tells a tale that is in the living memory of many older people yet feels like a completely different world than the one in which we now live. It was an America where segregation refused to end easily, where huge numbers of white Southerners refused to countenance anything more than nominal equality to their black neighbors. The movie tells this story through a snapshot of Martin Luther King Jr (David Oyelowo) trying to persuade President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to put voting rights for blacks in the South above all else, focused on the early months of 1965 when a march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama was proposed. Making it happen when the government of Alabama and numerous private citizens of that state were willing to do whatever it took to beat the tide back proved quite a struggle, and it was but one of the things King did during the civil rights struggle.
    This isn’t a particularly bloody or brutal movie in terms of the things said or done, not by the standards of most R-rated fare. It has the potential to shock modern audiences in ways though, not least by the uninhibited and absolutely accurate use of a certain six letter word starting with ‘n’ to refer to black people. This is how white Southerners generally talked at the time, and anything else wouldn’t sound right. ‘Boy’ is also used liberally. The white police and state troopers are also shown to unhesitatingly employ violence against protesters, often after the targets have already gone down and are no threat.
    For the most part this is an historically accurate movie, with the only major alteration to the record being an attempt to make LBJ less concerned about injustices done to blacks so that there is some tension as he refuses to act on their behalf. This isn’t really fair to him, but LBJ did have a lot of concerns on his plate aside from civil rights. Little alteration to the history was needed though, and as an educational document this movie is pretty faithful. The most affecting segments deal with the steps taken by the Alabama authorities to stop the protesters, but including several segments that deal with the in-fighting between all the major participants were interesting to behold, and disclose just how much disagreement people were having at the time. Most of the music was created at the time, though hearing somebody aside from Bob Dylan sing ‘Masters of War’ was not the best way to reflect that song’s impact.
    There are a few missteps though. Having Martin Sheen and Cuba Gooding Jr. appear for perhaps two minutes total doesn’t afford enough time to let them begin inhabiting their characters instead of spawning a ‘hey, it’s him!’ moment from the audience. Tom Wilkinson does a good job but is physically more like Richard Nixon than Lyndon Baines Johnson. A couple of moments of violence early in the proceedings are accentuated by needless special effects and slow motion to make sure their impact is fully felt, when instead the audience is more likely to feel aggravated.

    It squeaked into limited release just under the wire to qualify for Academy Award contention, but Selma seems to have been snubbed in a number of categories. David Oyelowo does fine work as King, and probably deserved to be nominated for Actor. Most of the technical aspects aren’t obtrusive, but the setting is effectively visualized, and that’s a triumph of art and production design because the world now doesn’t look the same as 50 years ago. The direction is effective if not world-beating also, not bad for someone’s third feature. Not having yet seen most of the other Best Picture nominees I can’t judge its qualities much for that criteria, but it’s a very strong film.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited February 2015
    Wild (2014) is a good movie, though not necessarily a great one, and a welcome return to interesting roles for Reese Witherspoon after a lot of coasting in recent years. She plays Cheryl Strayed, a woman who walked the whole Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave desert to the Canadian border. Why she did that is told in a number of flashbacks during the trek, which took place during the summer of 1995.
    Cheryl’s life was thrown upside-down when her mother (Laura Dern) died of cancer. Aimless and careless, she ruined her marriage and nearly killed herself through wanton hedonism. She had sex with any man who asked, and took lots of drugs (including plenty of heroin) while doing it. This was her means of coping with her mother’s death, and it was a pretty bad one. Mom had been there through the years, helping when Cheryl’s abusive father lashed out as a child, and being a fun person to befriend. This was also rough on her brother, but he’s not the focus of this story. After bottoming out when she decided on an abortion for a pregnancy whose father she wasn’t definite on, Cheryl finalized her choice.
    The trip is a long one, and certain highlights are displayed instead of the whole thing. At the beginning Cheryl is a neophyte to the ways of hiking, and her gigantic backpack weighs enough that even putting it on is a challenge. Her first day covered all of five miles, and if she had kept to that rate it would have been almost a year before completing the trail. She meets various people along the way, some being fellow hikers and others not. Brief encounters with wildlife take place, such as a rattlesnake and a llama (the pet of someone in Washington). She was mistaken for a hobo by a magazine interviewer, and got a care kit that included a can of Coor’s as a result. A stop in Ashland happened to coincide with Jerry Garcia’s death, which occasioned much sadness to many. Friendships were made, and a certain level of grit was found.
    It’s an interesting movie with a fine lead performance, but I wouldn’t call it great. Maybe what keeps it from a higher level of accomplishment is the fact that Cheryl Strayed’s story doesn’t easily lend itself to anything more than a vague call for others to pick themselves up and remake lives that aren’t very good. I’m not trying to insult it when I say such a thing, because this is definitely a tale that is worth seeing. The occasions when the movie tries to mean something don’t really work though – foremost is Cheryl’s sighting of a fox that is clearly intended as symbolism of some kind. I couldn’t say what kind, but it’s there.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited February 2015
    Whiplash (2014) is the name of a song played several times in the movie. It is also a good descriptor for the feeling that will be induced. Stories about artists being mentored to success are nothing new, but this one breaks free of the mold. Some of what it does falls apart if considered after the fact, it’s true. The grip on the viewer it generates is impossible to ignore though.
    Miles Farmer plays Neiman, a student at Shaffer’s, a fictitious school for the arts on the same level as Berkeley and Jouilliard. He’s a drummer, initially bored in a jazz ensemble class where he doesn’t feel challenged. Then Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) tells him to show up for the top-tier group. Neiman does, and finds out the type of ship Fletcher runs – one that would have fit into Royal Navy discipline pretty well. At his first session, Neiman gets to experience this man’s style of instruction, which is to verbally berate the student at length. This first session features someone out of tune in the orchestra, and Fletcher’s response is to have each section play until he finds the guilty party. The eventual result is that someone gets booted off the woodwind section, even though he wasn’t the out of tune member – all he needed to do was not know this. J.K. Simmons may have had R. Lee Ermey’s drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket in mind when he essayed this role, because that’s pretty much the mentality this man exudes. Insult and profanity are his stocks in trade, plus a blithe indifference to anything but forcibly extracting the best performances from his musicians possible. It gets him no friends, but apparently the orchestra is a consistent winner in contests.
    Neiman makes it onto the core band membership, but that’s only the beginning. One fine night Mr. Fletcher determines that none of the three drummers he has available is capable of playing ‘his’ tempo, and shuttles them between the kit for hours while the rest of the musicians have to stand around waiting until 2 AM. Smacks to the face in the name of getting attention are also part of Mr. Fletcher’s bag of tricks, and by the time a winner is chosen blood is on the drum kit. Neiman has that problem elsewhere too, practicing so much that his hands are bleeding on the sticks, but plenty of Band-aids will paper it over.
    The core of the movie is this relationship, but Neiman attempts to get a relationship going with a girl who works at a movie theater he frequents, and occasionally talks to his family in the form of his dad (Paul Reiser). Both of these are opportunities to demonstrate that he’s got quite the ego of his own: breaking off a relationship because you feel that she is only going to be a diversion of your time from drum practice is not the best way. Telling family members at a gathering that you’re better at your job than they are at theirs is also not a good way to keep relationships healthy. This guy comes in for a ton of abuse from Fletcher, but he’s not exactly a lovable person in all other ways.
    Fletcher has his reasons though. While it’s undoubtedly part of his calculation to divulge such information, he lets slip that the two words he hates most in the English language are ‘good job.’ These words allow adequacy to suffice when something better could and should be sought. Whether one agrees with this sentiment is irrelevant – it supplies a rationale for where the teacher is coming from and prevents his being a one-trick monster.
    From a musician’s standpoint, this has its share of problems but stands strong for the most part. The soundtrack is a treat for jazz lovers. “Whiplash” and “Caravan” are the two most-heard tunes, but plenty of others are featured throughout. Miles Farmer is not playing the drums for the most technically demanding close-ups, but he practiced the instrument enough to do a solid job the rest of the time. Rare is the institution that would not immediately prosecute a teacher who laid violent hands on students the way Fletcher does here, but it works for the story. A car crash at a critical juncture allows several plot holes to open up, but still suffices as a means of progressing the narrative provided one doesn’t think too hard about certain things (such as it never being mentioned again). Simmons only has to lay hands on an instrument once while playing piano at a club, and he does fine while the movie cuts away from the most demanding bits with his head in the frame.
    There’s one other thing to note, which is that this is a rare student/mentor script in which the outcome is genuinely hard to guess. That’s such a rarity that I have to give it credit. If either Farmer (who looks a lot like John Cusack, it must be said) or Simmons get recognition from the Academy Awards this year, it would be deserved.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
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