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Watch any good movies lately?

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  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    edited February 2015
    American Sniper (2014) is Clint Eastwood's latest, and has amazingly turned into the biggest hit of his career in years – though with inflation adjustment something tells me The Man With No Name trilogy and Dirty Harry would top its performance. It’s the tale of Chris Kyle, who does exactly what the title says, and makes no apologies for it. His confirmed kill rate in Iraq was over 160. More than a character study, this is a modern-day war movie – and a very good one. Bradley Cooper disappears into the character and if he wins Best Actor it wouldn't be an unworthy award.
    The movie begins with what we will eventually learn was Chris Kyle's first action at the front. He's monitoring potential threats to a US military convoy moving through an Iraqi city, and activity draws his sniper scope’s attention. A woman appears, holding something that looks very much like an explosive device. The woman then hands it to a child, who starts moving quickly toward the convoy. No one else is seeing this, and Kyle has to make the decision on what to do immediately.
    Then we cut to Chris as a kid, learning how to hunt from his dad. He and his brother learn their father’s clear-cut philosophy at the dinner table: you’re either a sheep, a wolf, or a sheepdog. This philosophy underpins Chris’s life for awhile, though being a cowboy at rodeos is not quite the best way of interpreting it. Then the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam were bombed, and he found himself a calling to prevent such things from happening. An enlistment in the Navy SEALS followed, and after making it into this elite group, he met the woman who would become his wife (Sienna Miller, doing a fine American accent throughout). Their honeymoon was cut short by deployment though.
    That takes us back to the opening scene, and the movie earns its R rating through what happens. While not the nastiest depiction of combat ever seen, it’s not for the faint of heart. Some of the kills at a distance have CG-added blood, but several soldiers near Chris get hit in the face and it’s not pretty. There is also a fellow known as the Butcher, who likes to wield a handheld drill for effect – very little of what he does is seen, letting the power of suggestion fill the rest of the frame. Chris is a man who is so consumed with his job that he signs on for four tours of Iraq, and quickly got the reputation of being a legend among his fellow soldiers. He doesn’t argue with it, but fame is not his goal. The closest we get to understanding this man comes when he visits a psychiatrist and states that he only wishes to have protected more US troops from the enemy. This came with a severe cost to his family life though – when he is home, half of his attention or more is drawn to the battlefield. It’s a kind of shell shock, one that he has to grapple with after the fourth tour is completed.
    Sienna Miller does a good job, certainly, but it’s Bradley Cooper’s movie. His Chris Kyle is a man who feels best when doing his job of killing people to protect the troops. Often his gaze could be a thousand yard stare or something less dire, and the difficulty of telling at a glance is a good thing because it forces the audience to recognize the toll taken on this man. His wife isn’t able to break through consistently, and until the middle of his fourth tour the man feels best when back with his fellow troops, continuing to kill.
    The movie’s portrayal of the many Iraqis it depicts is uncomplicated. Some of them try to help, but the ones who don’t get little recognition. The US troops call them ‘savages’ and nothing more, which is entirely fitting because these are the men fighting. Soldiers in the middle of a firefight don’t engage in lengthy conversations about the rightness of their cause, and because the movie is firmly planted among the soldiers it makes sense that it would embrace their worldview. The closest we come to named antagonists are the Butcher and a Syrian sniper who came to Iraq to do unto US troops what Chris Kyle does unto Iraqis – this man never speaks, but a few carefully chosen shots make clear that he had a life before this war along with a family. He’s painted as a kind of mirror of Kyle on the side of the insurgency.
    The conclusion takes the movie in a somewhat different direction, showing where Kyle went after his last tour and leaving as a postscript how his life ended on February 2nd, 2013. Using this material at all is an interesting choice given how recently it transpired, and the movie’s earliest stages had the real Chris Kyle as a producer at some level.
    It’s a fine war movie and an interesting character study. Comments about its inaccuracy aren’t especially relevant because it’s not a documentary and shouldn’t be held to the verbatim accounts. Clint will hopefully have the chance to make many more movies in subsequent years due to this one’s success, and his direction is a big reason for its quality.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Forced Vengeance (1982) is a representative of the lackluster Chuck Norris gallery. He’s fine, it’s the movie that pretty much fails. It lacks interesting action scenes and compelling characters, plus it has an oddly-placed mean streak for something supposedly aimed at the mainstream.
    Chuck is friends with a fellow who owns a casino in Hong Kong. That fellow’s son is the current casino manager, and uses ruthless tactics to recoup losses. He employs Chuck to make two of them happen: one involves threatening one man with the injury of his friend (who admittedly is stupid enough to try fighting Chuck Norris) to get the money owed, the other requires him to force an employee to leave without his pants because that’s where the ill-gotten funds were stored. Chuck does this without compunction except after the fact, but his disagreement over the methods is rendered inconsequential soon enough.
    His friend is having a disagreement with mobsters who want to force protection money out of his business. After a conversation that goes badly, the friend and the son are killed. A couple of gunmen go after Chuck too, but are unsurprisingly failures at it. Chuck doesn’t do much kickboxing until the end though, instead carrying a pistol around and using it as necessary. He’s got a girlfriend and the daughter of his friend to protect, neither of whom is particularly helpful. Eventually Chuck has to leave them with a guy who had all of one minute’s screen time earlier and was vaguely friendly, but he’s not good enough to compete with the mobsters. The daughter gets kidnapped, while Chuck’s girlfriend gets her clothes torn off by one big guy and is then raped. The lead bad guy is about to commit rape too, until stopped by Chuck.
    These two are our primary antagonists though, and the attempted rapist (who proves to be the son of the mob boss) takes on Chuck in single combat. He lands quite a few hits before Chuck is awake enough to beat him thoroughly. This idiot then manages to get himself tangled in the cords on top of his yacht, and falls off with those around his neck for an ignominious death.
    The other main adversary, an actual rapist, goes at it with Chuck for awhile but doesn’t succeed in coming across as anything more than a muscle bound lug.
    Two other moments illustrate the ineptitude of this project. One comes from a martial arts sequence with a lit neon sign behind the fighters. Well, one of them is probably Chuck, but it’s impossible to see anything but their silhouettes with that as a background, so getting invested in the fight is impossible. Another moment comes when Chuck fires a single shot that causes several items suspended via a board to come crashing down onto bad guys. Thing is, he fired that shot at the right side, and the board comes apart in the middle, suspiciously as if it had been cut beforehand….
    I’m not an expert in Chuck Norris’s filmography, but he has to have better movies than this to offer.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    “I’m taking you to our secret subterranean sanctum. We’re descending now, the chamber of purification, and the phenomenon of the illusion of total reality, where we shall show you that New York City is a dream created by higher beings as a temporary lodging place in the Earthly sojourn.
    Wow. But how do I know this isn’t a dream right now?
    Faith.”
    This speech occurs in the middle of Nothing Lasts Forever, a movie from 1984 that is barely known even though it stars Zach Galligan (of Gremlins fame) and features small roles for Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray. Finding it will prove difficult, and the condition is badly deteriorated.
    Will it prove worth the search? Well, it’s memorably weird, that’s for sure. It’s not GOOD by most standards, but weird is unfailingly accurate.
    It begins with a piano recital at Carnegie Hall that goes badly when sheet music unspools out of the instrument, which the audience responds to by tying him in it. The dream sequence ends, and Galligan (he’s not named Billy here) awakens on a train and engages in speech with an interesting man sharing his booth. Here we learn that this young man wishes to be an Artist, yet hasn’t even narrowed that down to the type of art he wishes to make. Back home to New York he goes!
    New York City is in some unusual straits though. Seems a long strike by its unions has led to being taken over by the port authority, and a dearth of lodgings plus employment means that a second customs interrogation takes place so that the population can stay capable of providing for itself. Somehow Galligan gets through even though he is an artist with no job offers, or even a portfolio. Meeting up with his relations at a dinner party (given despite the nasty strike taking place) he wanders about a bit before stumbling upon a job in one of the monitoring booths of the Holland Tunnel. His boss is Dan Aykroyd, who is able to indulge in a little bit of his penchant for rapid-fire technical jargon when explaining which cars should be stopped. A coworker is a European model type of lady, who introduces Galligan to the world of glorious male models and the high life in New York – such things as an avant garde musical performance with a full house of audience members who sit stock-still until the time to applaud comes.
    The speech at the beginning comes when the movie gets weird. It turns from black & white to color while the pair descend into the … well, the speech describes it more-or-less. This artist is then recruited to try reaching the moon, the only place all the happy vibes being put out by the hobo population can’t reach. Seems that the moon was first reached in the 50s, and seniors are constantly going there to shop, but microchips in their necks turn ‘moon’ to ‘Miami’ for the ears of younger people. Galligan does indeed make it onto a bus that flies to the moon, and its captain is Bill Murray, deeply suspicious of this young man who somehow got into the midst of seniors.
    Well, when it comes to movies that take me to a place I’ve never been before, this one does the job. It makes no sense and feels like gigantic chunks of material were left on the cutting room floor, but it’s unique. The film quality is lousy in black & white and in color – this thing was clearly not the beneficiary of a good preservation or restoration. Lorne Michaels is credited among the producers, which seems to make this some kind of lost Saturday Night Live project. It’s far more weird than anything else, but simple strangeness is amusing for some. I won’t forget it anytime soon, even if it’s not for anything resembling pure quality.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Black Sheep (2006) is a fun project from New Zealand that takes on a menace most people haven’t thought to fear: the prospect of flesh-eating sheep coming for us. It packs more a punch in a country where people are outnumbered by the animals, but there are sheep around the world – and maybe genetically modifying them is Bad News. Reading too much into the subtext might be unwise, but it doesn’t take much effort to decode that information from what’s on the screen.

    Fifteen years after a horrible accident gave him a deadly fear of sheep, Bill is going back to the family ranch at the behest of his therapist. His brother, who has managed the stead well and is now rich, thinks it’s an attempt to collect money and offers an immediate payout in the six figure range. Also on the expanse is a pair of environmental activists incensed at its exploitation of meat and unsafe practices. Some samples/rejects in convenient glass containers are spotted, and one is grabbed. This particular sample argues against being a reject, because it has survived being in the specimen bottle and promptly moves around after that encumbrance is shattered. One aggressive environmentalist finds what looks like a newborn lamb attached to his ear, and his earlobe is very stretchy. Eventually he manages to separate himself and wanders off in pain, while the other aggressive environmentalist (who goes by Experience) attempts to gain help. She finds it in Bill and veteran hand on the ranch Bob, who happen to be driving past with a rifle in the truck, which she grabs and uses as a hostage taker. Until she gives it up, which is about the time the results of that loose specimen start to make themselves apparent. Upon mixing with the sheep of the ranch, something has changed. These are newly-bloodthirsty animals, and they want meat. Being bitten by these killer creatures is also a Very Bad Thing, as something which might be called a killer man-sheep is the result.

    There are a lot of things Black Sheep does well, and one of the most impressive is to craft characters who aren’t repellent. The leads are likable and empathetic, a rarity in horror movies nowadays. The effects are impressive, and almost all are practically done instead of CG. I have no idea what a man turning into some hideous amalgam of human and sheep would actually look like, but here it’s done rather like a werewolf transformation, and it looks nifty. Many sequences have poor lighting or are set at night. It’s also a New Zealand movie that makes the landscape look appealing, so having effects from Peter Jackson’s studio is appropriate.

    This is also a rather funny movie. Sheep aren’t the most intimidating of creatures under ordinary circumstances, and the characters here respond to that. Several quick throwaway lines are pretty good, and the script as a whole is much less stupid than one might expect. It even uses the venerable Wilhelm scream in a pleasant way. This thing moves swiftly and doesn’t let the pace flag.

    It’s unlikely to change anyone’s life, and is not among the best movies ever made. That still makes it a new idea that is executed well, an increasing rarity in the modern horror industry. Whether one agrees with its assertion that genetic tampering will create this kind of situation is irrelevant: it’s a fun ride, though not necessarily for the squeamish. Nifty gore effects are also cool to see 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 April 2015
    I Was a Male War Bride (1949) is not the best thing Howard Hawks directed Cary Grant in. Having said that, it’s pretty darn funny nevertheless. Ann Sheridan is a fine female lead, sparring with Cary constantly and often getting the better of him. Casting Cary Grant as a French officer is unusual, but verisimilitude is not demanded of a goofy scenario like this.



    The movie is divided into halves. In the first half, Cary has a mission he must accomplish as an officer in the French army, to ferret out information from a specific German. Carrying out this task requires him to have a subordinate, and an officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (Sheridan) gets the job of helping. These two know each other. Their previous experience has been decidedly mixed: either they hate each other’s guts or they’re in love. This mission does little to fan the flame of love when Cary needs to read a road sign in the dark by climbing it, and Ann discovers just a smidgen too late that the sign was a declaration of wet paint on the post. Things eventually work out though, and the two decide to get married. This ushers in the second half, where forms and regulations that were written solely with American men bringing wives from other countries home have to be navigated by a man. Indignation at questionable paperwork results, and it’s a hoot. The promise of the title is fulfilled – just for a few minutes. Any more and it would have become too much, but this wisely refrains from overexposure.

    Otherwise, it just demonstrates that Howard Hawks was generally a fine comedy director. Gag setups are made and the actors carry them through with aplomb. A key component is that everyone acts serious and doesn’t kid the audience – it’s just funnier if a man didn’t intend to sleep in a woman’s room all night and has to hide on the balcony so the innkeeper doesn’t discover it, than if he acts suave and confident. At least with Cary Grant it is, and the man was possibly THE screwball comedy actor.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Birdman (or, the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was recently anointed with the title of Best Picture for 2014. Certainly it’s well made, I can’t dispute that. It failed to interest me though, and came across as a gimmick in search of a purpose. Its central concept is perfect for Michael Keaton, but I could easily come up with a concept equally perfect for various other actors that would also be empty.
    The scenario is that an actor known in the popular mind for a couple of superhero movies years ago gave that up and has tried to make a go of it with more substantial parts. He’s currently got a Broadway title in the final script rehearsals, but is haunted by the figure of his superhero alter ego egging him on about the way things could have gone. The play has plenty of problems getting off the ground too, though an emergency cast substitution at the last minute pays dividends. Reggan is also dealing with his daughter, just released from rehab and not exactly on the best terms with a parent who wasn’t in her life much.
    Boy howdy, Michael Keaton is perfectly cast for this kind of part, isn’t he? I wonder if he’s really haunted by the Batman costume from Tim Burton’s movies constantly saying what he could have been… no wait, I’m not. This entire aspect of the movie is bizarre but not in an interesting way. I did like one retort Reggan had to his alter ego about why going back to the part is a bad idea (“I look like a turkey with leukemia!”), but mostly it’s just some device to make his sanity come into question for no real reason except to rub in the true to life aspects. Big whoop.
    The many supporting characters are a varied bunch, and Zach Galifianakis gets a couple of decent lines as Reggan’s manager/agent. Edward Norton gets some nice moments as the last-minute replacement actor too. Emma Stone is good, as usual, playing a young woman with some serious substance abuse issues.
    The cinematography is good too. The movie won an Academy Award for it, and things certainly do look attractive throughout. The technical merits are great throughout.
    Then we come to the central gimmick of the movie, it having been filmed to look like a single take. This gimmick came across as needless and distracting to me. It certainly was not filmed in one take, and also has numerous moments in which the camera looks at the corner of a room for a moment, or a long shot held over an empty hallway. Why was it done in this way? I can’t think of a reason, except as a stunt, and it got on my nerves.
    There’s a point being made here, one that I even happen to agree with, about the mentality of braindead blockbusters in recent years crowding out the market for more thoughtful, personal projects. Unfortunately it’s not presented in a compelling way here. This idea is a good one, executed poorly.
    Other stunts litter the movie. I guess it’s cute that Reggan fantasizes for a little bit about what things would be like if he went back into the superhero field, but except as an excuse to toss out some special effects in a movie that otherwise doesn’t have much to interest an action-craving crowd, what’s the point? The lengthy sequence in which he has to navigate a New York crowd in his underwear to get back onto the stage is meaningless except as a stunt. What, is it supposed to demonstrate that Reggan is really dedicated to his job? I’m not buying it. The ending seemed to be straining for meaning – ooh, is Birdman real? I don’t know, nor do I really care. Then there’s the woman-on-woman kiss, which is gratuitous and unnecessary, though for certain people it’s apparently really cool. The play being performed, what I could tell of it, seemed vaguely Tennessee Williams-esque, but it also seemed more interesting than the shenanigans taking place on its periphery.
    While I guess it was mildly interesting, I was bored most of the time watching this movie. I never expected to find it a hollow shell of a movie, but that’s what I took away. May Alejandro Inarritu make something better now that he’s got credibility everywhere, because what I remember of Babel was better than this by a long shot.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    The Swarm (1978 is one of the most laughable disaster movies I've ever seen. That perversely made me have a better time than with most other disaster movies, which are just kinda boring aside from the destruction. Here, the laughs start early and never really quit.
    Irwin Allen was riding on a wave of concern about African 'killer bees' that hit around this time, and it sure isn't subtle. General Richard Widmark leads a contingent of soldiers investigating an air force base (that looks suspiciously like a TV set) and they find nothing but dead bodies. Until they don't, and entomologist Michael Caine is revealed to also be on the base. Imagine the chagrin on Richard Widmark's face when this entomologist is placed in charge of the whole operation. That doesn't happen until after the two of them engage in a shouting match with steadily increasing volume though.
    So, what happened? We don't have to wait long, as a couple of helicopters find the eponymous insect group (somehow radar aided them, though I'm pretty sure bees don't register on the instruments, or else every other flying insect also would). Those two helicopters are promptly crashed by bee attack! These are some nasty insects, people.
    Also in the base is doctor Katharine Ross, who helped a few troops survive for a little while. She and Michael Caine have a romance that adds up to precisely nothing, but it's there.
    Out come the bees, and they find a picnicking couple with an older boy child. The two adults are promptly carpeted in bees, while the kid, clammy and pale, manages to drive their car back to town. There he experiences hallucinations of a giant bee (the photographic enlargement serves to show us that the bee is merely cleaning its limbs, not doing anything dangerous) that are undone when Michael Caine tells him to reach out and touch it. Interesting! I didn't know hallucinations could be dispelled so easily.
    There's so much more though! Henry Fonda is in the cast, as a fellow scientist called in to deal with the bee menace! Olivia de Havilland is being romanced by Ben Johnson and Fred MacMurray! A child holding a big sucker dies to bee attack, but the sucker is suspiciously unaffected! The bees manage to derail a train (at least it's a train for the shots with people rolling around, it looks suspiciously like a model when coming off the rails) and kill almost everyone onboard! The bees demonstrate that nuclear safety protocols need to be upgraded to account for a swarm of them, or else all the operators might get killed at their posts and let the plant meltdown! Late in the movie, Richard Widmark is free to use military means to try saving Houston from bee attack - which involves sending out troops in Hazardous Material suits armed with flamethrowers. Only once it's too late does he notice that large parts of the city are on fire for some reason.
    Oh yes, Slim Pickens and Patty Duke are in the movie too. They have inconsequential parts, like most of the actors really. This comes almost to two hours for no reason whatsoever when a TV episode could tell the story without resorting to filler.
    The conclusion is laughable for an entirely different reason - it actually rips off ol' Burt I Gordon's Beginning of the End, something I didn't think I'd ever see. It also implies that everyone working on this mission was a complete moron, but that's nothing new.
    Still, I laughed more at this than many movies billed as comedies.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • TexsideTexside Member Full Members
    edited March 2015
    I watched a German movie, Nanga Parbat, tonight. I had to settle for Spanish subtitles (which I'm able to read at a pretty basic level, enough to get the gist of the scenes). It was a good movie. It covers the 1970 German expedition up the titular mountain, which is one of the tallest in the world, and focuses on the brothers Reinhold and Gunther Messner. Gunther Messner famously died on the mountain, so this is not a happy tale.

    It's well-acted, and the emotion and feel of the characters and their interaction comes through despite the language differences. Reinhold's cocky and a little arrogant, but determined; the expedition leader, Karl, is arrogant and sometimes petulant; Gunther is probably the most likeable of the lot.

    The big panoramic sweeps of Nanga Parbat are pretty, and the mountain climbing scenes are fantastic. There's some pretty weird cinematography here and there; I think they must have used some stock footage in parts, and sometimes the storytelling stumbles. That said: if you don't mind foreign language films (or can speak German or read Spanish), it's worth a watch.

    I'd suggest reading a little about the expedition on Wikipedia, though; it'll help fill a few holes in.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    The Candidate (1972) is an example of the kind of project with which Robert Redford used to be associated on a regular basis: intelligent scripts that had something to say. It hasn't aged all that well though. There's a good reason for that - unless a movie on politics wants to avoid every issue, it has to address topics that will be yesterday's news soon enough.
    Redford plays the son of a former US senator being approached by a Democratic campaign manager (Peter Boyle) who wants a known name to be on the ballot. Redford eventually accepts with the understanding that he's not likely to win against the incumbent. This would seem to afford him the chance to say pretty much anything he feels like, which he does for a bit until the polls show him rising. With an actual chance to win, campaign management gets much more attention.
    Plenty of scenes depict how political advertising was done 43 years ago, and it's almost quaint to watch now. The issues being debated are also now in the distant past - busing hasn't been mentioned in decades, and then-new things like the expansion of the welfare state are accomplished facts now. It's interesting to see these things, but their relevance to current life is small. Redford's incumbent opponent is also a Republican, something that the state of California has not provided to the US Senate in a long time and is unlikely to do so again for possibly even longer.
    Still, it's an entertaining watch, just dated in some respects. Such a topical movie had no way of lasting long in the popular memory. Its ending is also quite quaint by modern standards - a politician wondering what he does after the campaign is over has ceased to be an issue.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Cinderella (2015) is probably about the best this fairy tale can be rendered if you're going to make a live action version. Lily Adams does a fine job as Ella (Cinder isn't part of her name until the stepsisters think it's a cute touch), Richard Madden acquits himself well as Kit the Prince, and the story is rendered about as progressive as it can possibly be without a complete rethink that would make it unrecognizable. I didn't love it unreservedly, but I did have quite a bit of fun with the thing.
    I'm not even going to bother with avoiding spoilers in the general plot. Anyone who doesn't know this story has led an incredibly isolated existence, and will constantly be blindsided with things that are common knowledge among the general populace. I'll just meander along and mention things that are different from the 1950 Disney version.
    Ella gets a little time as a girl with her parents, just to rub in how awful it'll be when the stepmother and stepsisters enter the picture. Mom bequeaths sage advice to her daughter as she dies of Love Story syndrome: "Have courage and be kind." Don't worry, this advice will be repeated often enough that there is no danger whatsoever of forgetting it, although not quite enough to become a drinking game or unduly annoying.
    Some years later, dad asks Ella's permission to remarry, phrasing it as a way of regaining some happiness in his life. Odd that he shows no real affection to the stepmother when she appears though... but then again, he doesn't live a long time once she's introduced. As expected, Cate Blanchett looks great playing the stepmother, and there are hint that this character is being made into more of a three-dimensional person than the one-note villain of the piece. She's certainly more interesting than Anastasia and Drusilla, the vain, stupid, self-obsessed ninnies that the stepsisters have always been.
    Without dad in the picture, the financial means to keep the help employed are gone, and Ella gets saddled with all the chores around the estate to 'keep her mind off her sorrow.' One fine day (the day her stepsisters notice the ash from the hearth on her face and dub her Cinderella, along with stepmother bidding her not to eat at the same table) she takes a frustrated horse ride into the woods and meets a CG stag. That nonexistent animal is being hunted by a lot of people, one of whom is Kit, who is indeed a kind of apprentice at the palace. He and Ella (who does not name herself) are quite taken, but off she must go. Soon enough her memory is so tantalizing that Kit insists the ball at which his prospective brides appear must allow anyone of the kingdom to attend, and the king (nicely played by Derek Jacobi) assents. Stellan Skarsgard gets to play another of his maniacal people, being the royal minister most concerned that the unnamed kingdom is helped by whomever the prince marries. From here we have a magical ball, the magic lasting only until the stroke of midnight, a search for the owner of the missing glass slipper, and an ending out of left field completely when some rogue vikings appear on an army of griffins to dig a hole to China.
    Okay, I might have made that up.
    If the 1950 movie didn't exist, I doubt Cinderella would have four CG mice to help her out at times, one even named Gus Gus (they don't talk here). To my extreme disappointment, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo does not appear until the end of the credits. Helena Bonham Carter gets to have a lot of fun as the fairy godmother, but doesn't have a lot of screen time. This kingdom is a picturesque place, I have to say. It blends a lot of 18th century fashions and architecture together to remove any particular location as the sole inspiration... probably for the best with this story.
    I do have to point out that the narrator (the godmother) actually asking if the prince would be happy with Cinderella as she is, no magic to help her, is one of the most foolish rhetorical questions ever asked. OF COURSE HE IS. This woman pretty much qualifies for sainthood.

    Oh yes, and we had a Frozen short before the movie. It was entertaining on its own merits (that was a fun movie after all), but it's sad that extras with cinematic showings are so rare, and have been for decades. Still, enjoy it while it's available.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) is more fun than I expected based on the oft-repeated trailer. If I’d remembered Matthew Vaughn’s name, that might have been different – Layer Cake, Stardust and Kick-ass were all effective at different things. This is definitely a better Mark Millar adaptation than Wanted, which was so overdone as to be funny in spots. Kingsman has moments of humor, but they’re intentional.

    After a quick prologue in 1997, the movie hops ahead to the present. Colin Firth plays Galahad, a member of the Kingsman group that is a level beyond MI6 in secrecy among UK operatives. The group has an opening, after one of its members was investigating something in Argentina and got cut in half. Galahad’s selection to undergo the entrance trials is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a young man who happens to be the son of the Kingsman we only met briefly in 1997. He takes a bit of convincing, but a demonstration of what can be done by members trained in this group gets his attention. Getting in is no simple task of course, and while the trials are conducted Galahad conducts an investigation into what happened to the former Lancelot.

    Colin Firth isn’t a name one associates with action movies, but he acquits himself admirably here. Half of his task is to look impeccable in a nice suit no matter what he’s doing, and it’s a job he accomplishes with flying colors. A scene in which he takes out almost everyone in a Kentucky church is one of the most memorable brawls I’ve seen in recent action movies, and its resolution is somewhat surprising. “Manners – maketh – man” is his catchphrase, and it’s a strong one.

    Then we have Eggsy, played by a Egerton, a fellow I’ve never seen before who does a great job. It’s not an easy task, playing a sullen young man who we’re supposed to empathize with, but he manages it. His aptitude at the difficult tasks thrown his way is explained just enough to keep audience members from constantly questioning it. He also is a very snappy dresser when the time comes to have a wardrobe consistent with other Kingsmen. (As Galahad explains, these suits come with a lot of hardware to make them more than just a good-looking ensemble).

    In other prominent roles, we have Samuel L. Jackson as a lisping executive of a tech firm, Mr. Valentine (any resemblances to real people in this capacity and with this amount of power are no doubt intentional). Jackson is having fun, especially with his character quirk of being unable to stand the sight of blood. Considering what he’s trying to do, that’s an amusing issue to suffer. Valentine’s assistant is fine without being memorable except for her character trait, which is having metal legs below the knee that include blades sharp enough to cut a human being in half without a struggle. It may not be plausible, but it’s memorably outlandish.

    Another prominent role is given to Mark Strong as the gadget man in the Kingsmen, Merlin. He’s pretty much always good, and he gets plenty of screen time to remind one of it. Michael Caine, as the senior Kingsman Arthur, doesn’t get a ton of time but is his usual dapper, effective self. We also have the other finalist among Kingsmen candidates, who acquits herself well in the most significant female role of the movie (Eggsy’s mother gets enough time to have a personality, but otherwise there aren’t a lot of women who make an impression).

    Explicitly mentioned several times are the Bond movies, specifically those from back when Sean Connery was 007. While it’s stated that ‘this ain’t that kind of movie,’ the winks toward Bond make clear that this is not a movie to forget everything that came before. Valentine’s plan is especially Bond villain in nature, although he’s not trying to take over the world so much as remake it with an eye towards the environment. Valentine also has a host of cannon fodder bad guys who don’t display much more aptitude than the typical mobs of henchmen dispatched by Bond.

    It’s got a sense of humor, enough style to be enjoyable, good characters, and a solid directorial eye. The violence is fairly realistic, so that might be off-putting, except in one instance where it goes so far over the top as to inspire incredulity in the audience: all I can say right here is “mushroom clouds.” In early 2015 that’s plenty to make it worth seeing. I was pleasantly surprised by what I got here, and would gladly see it again.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Having finally seen Tokyo Story (1953), I’m a bit perplexed as to why it’s held up as Yasujiro Ozu’s masterpiece. Certainly it’s a strong movie – I haven’t seen an Ozu that was bad, and this is most definitely an Ozu movie. His style is immediately identifiable – quiet most of the time, having barely any plot for a long time, and composed almost entirely of static takes that often feature actors talking directly into the camera without breaking the fourth wall because it’s the middle of a conversation with another party. The subject matter is pure Ozu too – how the generations relate to each other as times change.
    Tokyo Story’s situation is that an older couple is going to visit their children in the Tokyo area. A son is a doctor, a daughter is a hairdresser, and a daughter-in-law works in an office of some kind. There’s another son in the Osaka area, but he isn’t seen until much later. One other daughter is in high school and hasn’t left home yet. The couple first stays with their son’s family, but doesn’t get to do much because he’s on call even on what should be a day off. Staying with their daughter doesn’t work out, since she’s a busy person too. Their daughter-in-law (the son to whom she was married hasn’t been seen since 1945, when he was overseas) is as accommodating as possible, but can’t take both of them in her tiny apartment.
    Interaction among the family members is the only thing that takes place for most of the movie, but as usual what would be boring in the hands of another director is fascinating from Ozu. It may be just grandparents taking a remarkably lenient attitude toward a pair of rude grandsons, or reminiscing about how the dead son probably wasn’t the best match for their daughter-in-law in the first place and she’s free to find someone else after eight years, but these interactions are captivating.
    A conventional plot aspect only shows up in the last third, when the older couple goes back home, but the children have to come there in person very soon. This section is quietly impressive and rather moving, showing several means of coping with death. The reactions of the children to a parent’s death are fascinating and feel very representative of how many people would behave in such a situation.
    Setsuko Hara is an actress I’ve seen in several other Ozu movies, and as usual her performance is great. Chishu Ryu is another Ozu regular, also delivering fine work. The acting is in the usual style for Ozu: quiet and unaffected. People rarely raise their voices in an Ozu film.
    Thinking back on it, I’m still not quite sure why Tokyo Story is the consensus Ozu movie that gets the most acclaim, but neither is it a mystery to me. The man made many quiet, observational dramas that hold up as a document of changing times in Japan. This isn’t necessarily the best I’ve seen from him, but that’s more a statement of how good he usually is than anything detrimental.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Picture Mommy Dead (1966) is another attempt by Bert I. Gordon at psychological horror. It works about as well as Tormented, which was a disaster. So is this. It’s a hoot in places, but not good at all.

    Pre-credits, we have a scene in which Zsa Zsa Gabor is unconvincingly supposed to burn to death in a house fire. Cut to a number of years later, at which point her daughter Susan (Susan Gordon) is being released from a sanitarium to the custody of her father Don Ameche. He’s remarried after the death of the mother, and they’re off to the old house where mommy’s death by fire took place. Entering the place, estate lawyer Wendell Corey overacts with a vengeance and is absolutely hilarious to witness doing it. Really, what kind of guy is he to shout loudly at someone just released from a sanitarium when she doesn’t immediately know how to respond to the question of what right and wrong are? It’s almost too bad he’s a ‘guest star’ according to the credits and has only one scene, because his performance is hilariously overdone.

    He has to leave sometime though, and that leaves Susan to wander around the house, getting scared at night and having flashbacks to the horrible night. There’s also a scarred groundskeeper who utters scary pronouncements to her, and shocking revelations that amount to nothing revelatory. Mostly we learn that Susan Gordon is not a good actress (at least when directed by her father) during this movie, and of all things her gape-mouthed expressions reminded me of a prototypical Britney Spears.

    Despite being 82 minutes this thing feels bloated. It’s a pan & scan, and what image does show up is clearly not well preserved. Zsa Zsa is amusing during her flashback appearances, but otherwise the actors do well enough to not cause burst of laughter from the audience, and that’s no good at all when the man at the helm is so clearly inadequate. If MST3K had needed more BIG movies to skewer, this one would have done the job in excellent fashion.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Roberta (1935) was the last Astaire & Rogers movie for me to see. As usual, the duo is great fun to watch, but this time somebody at MGM had the brilliant idea of putting in another plot starring Irene Dunne. It doesn’t really work.
    The Astaire & Rogers storyline finds him as a bandleader looking for gigs, and her as a con artist pretending to be a Polish countess. Hearing Ginger Rogers with a silly accent for most of the running time was unique, but otherwise this goes precisely where one would expect it to with this pair. Fred and Ginger get to dance a couple of times, and Fred sings ‘Cheek to Cheek.’ As usual, the dancing is superb.
    The other storyline finds Irene Dunne (who is not Roberta – the title comes from a clothing store) being wooed by an uninteresting rich man in Paris. The stories dovetail frequently, as the man wooing her is also the one who ends up employing Fred’s band, but Irene also has to sing thrice during the running time. She’s not a bad singer, but ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ was not mean to be sung as an operatic tune, and the other numbers she gets are similarly afflicted with that odd trend in the 30s of songs that were not composed as operatic in style being sung that way. I’ve seen numerous examples of these, and they invariably feature the singer staring motionless into the camera while nothing else happens. The music isn’t carrying it, and neither is the visual, so it’s a total waste.
    So the movie has a lot of useless stuff, but anything with Fred & Ginger isn’t a complete loss. Keep the fast-forward option available and it’s worth seeing.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Gimme Shelter (1970) is one of the most highly-regarded documentaries ever made, and it’s definitely worth a look. Originally made to chronicle the Rolling Stones touring the US in 1969 (something the band hadn’t done in several years), it ended up containing footage from the Altamont concert that was a horrendous mess. Some people try to read ‘the death of the 60s’ into this movie, and I could go along with that if the concepts peddled in the late 60s inspired anything more than a shrug in me. Putting the onus of the death of an era onto one event is more than I feel comfortable doing.
    While not told in strictly chronological order, the concert footage follows that pattern. Numerous bits are interspersed with the band looking over the film of their stage appearances, most of which show Mick Jagger looking either stoned out of his mind or numb to what happened – maybe both. Several numbers from a Madison Square Gardens appearance earlier in the year are shown in full, and they inadvertently demonstrate what often befell live shows for a long time to come – that the equipment available on stage just couldn’t equal the studio wizardry. This version of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ just isn’t as good as the one made in the studio, and it’s not alone. Seeing an appearance of Ike & Tina Turner is pretty nifty though – one of many opening acts for the Stones on this tour.
    Altamont itself arose from the idea of giving a free concert to cap off the tour, very much with Woodstock still on the minds of everyone. Most things that a concert relies upon are not free though, and getting them to happen still requires much money behind the scenes, such as arranging a location and providing the equipment. Then came the idea of Hell’s Angels being the security force, paid in beer. A Hell’s Angel is heard on a phone call, loudly communicating the notion that his bike is the most important thing in his world, and that anyone seeming to disrespect it will come in for nothing pleasant. Whether anyone thought this idea through is questionable, but it really did happen.
    The Altamont concert began with setting up the equipment, and numerous people had to be told to keep off the trestles meant to hold speakers. Jefferson Airplane was the opening act, and Hell’s Angels did a fine job of upholding the situation by punching Marty Balin, depriving the band of its lead singer for the rest of the concert (Jeff Kantor is rather funny in his sarcastic delivery of that news to the camera). Still, what came during the Stones’ performance was nastier. A black man with a gun was spotted by Hell’s Angels in the crowd, and knives were promptly deployed. He did not survive the night.

    Mick's singing got disrupted there by the overzealous Hell's Angels pushing the crowd back. One might ask what he was on (it's a valid assumption that he was on something, it's 1969) to be so optimistic at this point.
    I’m not trying to ascribe deeper meaning to these events, though the symbolism of having ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ playing beforehand is obvious. That cameras were around to film the knives being deployed into the man was some kind of fortune, but I don’t know what kind. As a chronicle of the Stones back when they actually were young, it’s valuable. As a document of a very ugly night, it’s invaluable. The title tune is played over the credits as people depart into a misty morning sunshine that seems to portend a great deal, and maybe it does.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Barry Lyndon (1975) is not one of Stanley Kubrick’s better-remembered ventures. It came after A Clockwork Orange, and it took the man six years to follow with The Shining. It’s certainly interesting to behold, and provides evidence of what Kubrick might have made if other adaptations of older literature had been among his priorities – for this feels like a book brought to the screen, with many sections and twists. It’s certainly a worthy adaptation, but rather distancing and hard to love – which makes it very much in keeping with the rest of Kubrick’s work.
    The eponymous role is played by Ryan O’Neal, an actor I’ve had limited exposure to thus far - probably because he hasn't done much since the 70s. He’s stiff and unexpressive most of the time, but I have the funny feeling Kubrick wanted exactly that, so it’s probably a good thing. Barry is eventually revealed to be a self-centered jerk, but sympathetic characters are not what Kubrick tends to want, so that’s no surprise either.
    The story takes place over a number of years in the mid-18th century. Barry does not acquire the surname Lyndon until after the intermission, and begins life as a lowly peasant in Ireland. Infatuated with his sister, he determines to disrupt her intended nuptials with a member of the aristocracy, and does so via a duel. His success means that fleeing the country to escape the reach of vengeful relatives is now necessary, and Barry enlists in the Royal Army. This proves a bad match for him, but an attempt to desert is caught short by Prussians, and he finds himself a member of the Prussian army during the Seven Years’ War, closely watched to ensure he does not try a second time to shirk his duties. After the war he becomes an attaché to the Prussian officer who caught him, only to be asked to spy on a fellow Irishman with whom he hatches a plot. Their scheme is to make huge money off aristocrats losing at wagers, which is a very successful one indeed. It affords Barry the money and reputation to marry a widowed woman from whom the Lyndon title arises, but he ends up treating her like dirt with constant carousing and obvious unfaithfulness. They have a child, but the kid winds up thrown from a bucking horse and gets a broken neck. Eventually Lyndon’s life comes apart when his stepson insists on a duel, but the ending promises that his life was not over, though its successes from then on were not notable.
    It’s a bit over 3 hours, but not in a bad way due to the sheer amount of ground being covered. There are a few amusing scenes, such as when Barry is robbed by a couple of very articulate fellows on the way to the continent, but mostly it feels like a costume drama helmed by Kubrick. That’s an odd way to describe the action, but it really does feel like what Kubrick would turn out for this kind of subject matter. The historical details are impeccably rendered, the cinematography is excellent, the costumes look great, and things keep moving at a good clip. O’Neal is about as good as he’s probably ever going to be, which works for this movie’s setting. It’s hard to really get into this movie due to its deliberately austere approach, but absorbing all the good here is doable. It’s not on the level of certain other Kubrick works with regard to memorable dialogue, unfortunately. It also feels very much like a sprawling literary work – which makes sense considering it is. Difficult to get into, but interesting and mostly worthwhile on balance.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • SeraphimKittenSeraphimKitten President of Soft Paws Full Members
    edited April 2015
    Babadook was a recent horror movie addition to Netflix that I thought was worth the watch. It's one of two horror movies I tried simply because Sare was out and I wanted to watch something scary and ended up really enjoying myself - Pontypool was the other one. Pontypool surprised me even more because it was from a sub genre I had thought myself done with entirely. There's only so much freshness you can get from the zombie genre, and resurrecting the fast zombies of the 1920's (Herbert West, Re-animator) only did so much for me. Pontypool, while not quite a zombie movie, is close enough to keep things interesting.

    Right, but I was talking about Babadook. It's a decent surface story, but it also serves as a good way of explaining grief and mental illness. I like horror, but I'm not a fan of gore, torture, or hypersexuality. Babadook lured me into a false sense of security about how you can have a good horror story without gross-outs, so much so that now that I'm listening to Nick Cutter's The Troop audiobook I find I can't eat while listening to it. I imagine Babadook is even scarier for parents.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Inside Daisy Clover (1965) is a strange mess that is more boring than anything else. It seems to show the trouble Natalie Wood had getting strong roles, along with the problems that afflicted Hollywood in the mid-to – late 60s on the whole. It’s kind of neat to see Robert Redford in an early role, even if his character is underwritten and mysterious for the wrong reasons. It’s also kind of neat to see Christopher Plummer in something else from the year of Sound of Music. This thing feels too long though, and it has nothing particularly worth seeing.
    Daisy Clover (Wood) is a young … female whose age is hard to determine, and who seems to be some kind of unruly, rebellious youth. Why she should be that way is a very good question, but one never answered in this movie. For some reason she catches the eye of a visiting Hollywood producer (Plummer) in her seaside shanty town, and for reasons only the screenwriter knows (given that she’s so moody and rebellious against everything) she accepts the offer to become a star. Off to Hollywood she goes, where she extremely improbably becomes a musical sensation at the dawn of sound. This is improbable because Natalie Wood yet again doesn’t do her own singing, and Marni Nixon has to come in on the soundtrack to do it for her.
    Aside: Natalie Wood has a terrible hairdo in this movie. It looks like a graying wig cut in some kind of shapeless cut that always looks uncombed. It’s part of what makes her age hard to determine, because most teenagers do not have gray hair. Wood also acts like someone around 12-14, further making it hard to figure her out.
    Looking for a support of some kind (I think), Daisy meets drunken Robert Redford, who is at least interesting for a little while. They actually get married, and he runs away on the first day of the honeymoon, showing up again only near the movie’s end. There’s some suggestion in discussion of the movie that maybe this character is gay, but that doesn’t serve to make him much more intelligible.
    Among the mysteries this script never elucidates would be how Daisy Clover becomes a star – she really doesn’t seem to accept the guidance that veterans attempt to give her as to how it’s done. Is she suicidal near the end? I have no idea. She’s certainly anarchic in the concluding segments, because she’s ticked off, dammit! How she got that way is a question I can’t answer.
    It’s frustrating and boring simultaneously. I got nothing out of it that I deemed worthwhile.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Get Hard (2015) is not a great movie, and individual liking for Will Ferrell will determine how effective it is for most viewers. Yes, Kevin Hart is also in it, but it feels like a Ferrell movie more than one of his. Having said those things… I must confess that quite a bit of what happened was amusing to me. Not all of it, but enough hits happened after a bumpy setup that I feel comfortable recommending this to any Will Ferrell fan.
    Setup: Ferrell is James King, one of the massively-moneyed people who makes a killing in the stock market. He’s on top of the world, raking in millions through skilled trading. He’s engaged to the daughter of the boss (Craig T. Nelson), they’re making plans to buy an even bigger house than they already own, and everybody likes him. Then comes a slight problem in the form of some embezzlement. James King loudly protests his innocence and goes to trial, only to get the book thrown at him by a vengeful judge and jury. 10 years in San Quentin is his sentence.
    Here Darrell (Kevin Hart) begins to make a difference in the proceedings. We’ve already seen that he needs money for a payment to get his business venture going, and has a family to support. King comes to him under the misapprehension that Darrell is a prison veteran (though as the statistic that one in three black men in the US has gone to jail at some point is quoted, there is a reason, however stupid, for him to think this). The mission: prepare King for life on the inside.
    All of this setup takes somewhere between twenty and thirty minutes, and doesn’t have a whole lot of jokes that work unless the sight of Will Ferrell’s buttocks is inherently amusing (and it was, according to the laughter of some people seated in front of me). Once we get into the heart of the movie though, and Hart starts training this man for prison’s rigors, then the stuff starts to click.
    First up comes deprivation – Mr. King is a rich man, and must be removed from all the things that will be unavailable in the joint. That this allows the hired help he’s been annoying for years to get a little satisfaction by denying things is icing on the cake. Then comes physical conditioning – Mr. King may be in some kind of shape, but he has to be ready to fight at a moment’s notice. This requires going into public parks and attempting to pick fights with people, something that goes amusingly badly. Failure at fighting means Darrell attempts to prepare for the inevitable consequence by instruction in how to be the recipient of attention from prison rapists, something that ALSO doesn’t go well. Having failed at this, the next stratagem is to try getting gang protection on the inside, but James King doesn’t do well with white supremacists, and his obvious skin color makes seeking protection from the gang Darrell’s brother belongs to a bit dicey. Eventually, the solution that might have occurred to every audience member does pop up – if King really is innocent, why not try to find the real criminal? Doing so involves an improbably sturdy computer hard drive and a bunch of not-terribly-competent bodyguards.
    I suppose the final speech uttered by Mr. King will encapsulate this movie’s appeal. It is delivered to Darrell: “I got hard and stayed that way all the time I was in prison. It was all thanks to you. There was a minute when I stopped being hard, but then I thought of you and I got hard again.”
    I'm paraphrasing a bit, but this is definitely the essence of it.
    It may mark me as a kind of juvenile in many respects, but I found that amusing. Not even close to everything works here, but once the setup is done the less-fruitful stuff (such as attempts to blend in with black people, or teaching gang members how lucrative stock tips can be) isn’t belabored. Enough worked that I have no problem recommending it to people 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
    We can thank Airport (1970) for a lot of things. It (and its three sequels) eventually brought forth Airplane! It also made a ton of money (adjusted for inflation, it’s STILL a ton of money) back upon release, and ensured good paydays for most of the people involved. It inaugurated the disaster movie craze that lasted throughout the 70s and has never truly ended – witness San Andreas (a remake of Earthquake in all but name) coming soon. It also wasn’t very good, which is a trait that almost all disaster movies share. Except in the case of Airport, it actually delivers almost nothing in the way of a disaster. Do not come looking for grandiose special effects sequences with destruction – they aren’t here. Instead feel free to enjoy the many boring subplots and the extraneous characters played by actors out for a paycheck. If those things don’t do it for you – and they didn’t do it for me – then this is a wasteland.
    Burt Lancaster gets the biggest role, as the man who makes things happen around a Chicago airport during a heavy blizzard that has deposited more snow than most years see onto the runways. Lancaster is fine in a stupid role, and he later pronounced this movie the biggest piece of junk he was ever involved in, a statement that I cannot refute at this point. In addition to the thrill of him calling maintenance man George Kennedy to come to work when he had cleared the night previously, we get the thrill of airport administrative briefings and perfunctory talks with his wife about their home life’s collapse due to his commitment on the job. None of this does anything more than eat up time, a lot of time. His character is only interesting because of the actor portraying it, and the personal life issues are trite and uninteresting. There’s just nothing worth seeing here except Lancaster giving it his all despite a wretched script, which is more an endurance test than anything pleasurable.
    As for Kennedy, I know his character is the one constant among all Airport movies, but he doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this one. His story is thus: be called at home to come into work at no notice, get to work by driving through snowy roads laden with traffic, and clear runway 29. Get used to hearing ‘runway two-niner,’ it’s repeated a lot. Also runway 22, but I guess all the other runways weren’t having problems. It would have been nice to hear another number instead of those two.
    We also have Dean Martin as a pilot, which would probably have terrified any actual passengers but seems not to register with these people. He’s having a romance with stewardess Jacqueline Bissett. Then there’s Helen Hayes, portraying in a mildly interesting way an old lady who tried smuggling some things through customs and is thus a lawbreaker. She got Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards for a role that demanded nothing of her, and is another example of Academy idiocy.
    Then we have the character who actually inaugurates some kind of plot in the movie beyond aimless banter around the airport, Van Heflin (in his final role…) as a desperate man with a bomb intending to get life insurance money for his family. His wife is Maureen Stapleton – after realizing what he’s up to, her primary job is to look worried and fret a lot. His character had potential, but none of it was realized by this lame screenplay.
    Speaking of his having a bomb, huge chunks of this movie now serve as a time capsule of air transport in 1970. It’s not a GOOD time capsule, but seeing Helen Hayes sneak onto a plane without a ticket while no one is looking shows how different the world now is. Then the plane actually takes off with an extra unanticipated passenger, something that does not happen nowadays. As for Van Heflin’s bomb, he’s just allowed to take a suitcase onto the plane without it being examined in any way.
    It takes over an hour for this plotline to pick up by having the airplane lift off, and once it does there are only a few minutes of interest when Stapleton alerts the authorities to what her husband is planning to do. He’s cornered and seems to be receptive to a talk, but is startled and detonates in the (surprisingly large) airplane bathroom. The rest is preparing a place for the damaged plane to land while poor Jacqueline Bissett is injured and the passengers are in various states of unease. Oxygen masks are deployed, arguments occur over how long the plane can stay intact, discussions are held over which runway to use, and the ending is predictable to a T. For a disaster movie, there really isn’t anything I would term a ‘disaster’ that takes place. Oh, and the effects are crummy. Not that one would necessarily expect great aviation effects from a 1970 picture, but some movies older than this hold up well.
    Director George Seaton is fond of split-screen images for the many telephone call scenes. I have nothing further to say about them, except that several varieties are employed to get through the MANY phone call scenes this movie offers. It’s also the only form of imagination deployed in what was otherwise not a striking movie even for 1970 in terms of images. Why it did such huge box office is a mystery to me. Ten years later we got Airplane, but that was way too long to produce any kind of payoff.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Darling Lili (1970) is how Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews met, with their marriage only ending when he died in 2011. The movie was a colossal flop at the time of its release, and Andrews didn’t make another film for four years. While I can’t say the version I saw is an unsung masterpiece that deserved to dominate the box office, it was apparently the victim of infighting behind the scenes. Blake Edwards released a director’s cut in 1991, as yet unseen by me, that chopped 30 minutes out from the already-somewhat-shortened theatrical cut, and probably improved it. The original version is what I saw though, and it’s no wonder critics weren’t kind to it.
    The scenario is that Lili (Andrews) is a stage singer who crosses the English Channel and entertains huge crowds in Britain and France during World War I. That isn’t all she does, though: this woman is also a German spy. Her uncle is the contact, a well-regarded man whose flitting across the wartime border is not difficult. He’s also the handler, and both are good at their jobs. Given that Andrews owes this spying role to her mother’s side of the family and she’s spent most of her life in Britain, some in the Kaiser’s espionage corps find her loyalty questionable and would rather the job be terminated. She’s never given any cause to doubt her devotion to the German cause though.
    The plot thickens once she meets a flier (Rock Hudson) whose persistence catches her eye. After an entertaining time together, she is contacted by two French government operatives who think this man is a German spy. She’s a dedicated espionage player, but a predictable twist occurs by the end of the movie to ensure we have some kind of happy ending. There’s also a point at which Lili thinks she’s being spurned for another woman and gets extremely huffy about it, but aside from a bizarre music hall sequence this doesn’t amount to much.
    First, the length needs to be addressed. Blake Edwards’ choice to take plenty of material out for his director’s cut would seem to indicate that a lot of stuff was superfluous, and that is indeed the case. The flying footage manages to borrow from Wings (1927) without being very exciting, even when the Red Baron is included as an adversary. Several of the scenes with these two together fall under Roger Ebert’s old ‘semi-obligatory lyrical interlude’ categorization, in which the characters wander and chat inaudibly while music drowns out the onscreen action. Sure, it’s Henry Mancini music and thus very pleasant to hear, but it still contributes nothing to the movie. The section in which Lili feels spurned and jealous could also have been trimmed significantly with nothing important lost.
    As a stage singer, Julie Andrews gets to deliver a few tunes also. A very pretty one opens the movie, and she sings other numbers that are a mix of new compositions from Mancini and period-appropriate such as “A Long Way to Tipperari.” A couple of numbers are used more than once, and since Edwards was adamant that he didn’t want this to be considered a straight musical, the quantity of musical numbers chips away at his case. They’re fun to behold though, as Andrews’ voice is its usual beautiful instrument.

    Then we have the two French government operatives, who seem to have wandered out of something slapstick done at another time by Edwards. They have exaggerated accents a la’ Inspector Clouseau, and in a chase sequence at the climax they engage in constant bumbling craziness. Maybe in another movie they would fit in, but here they stick out in the wrong way and detract from the attempt at seriousness that the rest of the movie seems to be making.
    The core relationships might have something. Andrews and Hudson seem to enjoy each others’ company, and her character arc comes close to being effective. Her uncle is also effective, and the climax attains some urgency. Not enough though, and the amazing coincidence that takes place during a train ride shot up by roving planes is hard to ignore. I’m curious to see the director’s cut sometime, but the version distributed to theaters doesn’t work.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    The Party (1968) is a relatively unknown title from Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers. It’s a tribute to the movie that, despite most of the fashions being garish and outdated, the bulk of the humor still works. It’s not necessarily a GREAT comedy, but it’s effective nevertheless.
    The pre-credits setup comes with Mr. Bakshi (Sellers) being employed as a minor player on what looks like a remake of Gunga Din. First he screws up a take by continuing to play the bugle after taking something like twenty bullets, then he gets on the wrong kind of list by managing to prematurely detonate a building while the cameras weren’t rolling. Those Hollywood executive types aren’t all that good at simple tasks though, and his name is put on a party invitation list instead of the ‘you’ll never work in this town again!’ one. Thus he appears, knowing no one and awkwardly trying to mingle with people.
    This is the setup, and from here many of the situations would have played out without much change if Buster Keaton had been the star in the 20s. They’re particular to this building, which has certain bizarre architectural features only a rich eccentric would have (such as a pool with stepping stones in the middle of the living room), but derived from that feeling everyone has had of being at a party and not knowing anyone there. First Mr. Bakshi attempts to clean off his shoe using that pool, but he’s wearing loafers and the shoe gets picked up by the current. His attempt to get it back without attracting undue attention is quite amusing. After that comes wandering around and joining in at the tail end of conversations others are having, and next is innocent experimentation with a gadget on the wall. This is indeed an odd house though, and that gadget turns out to be the control for things like fountains and panels covering the pool, along with the blazing cauldron elsewhere in the living room. A couple of later centerpieces feature being seated next to the door where food will constantly be making its entrance from the kitchen, and attempting to locate a toilet when all of them seem to be occupied. Finding one isn't the end of his troubles though:
    The conclusion gets a bit crazier, with some younger people somehow having obtained an Indian elephant that gets washed in the middle of the living room, but it’s a long way from the complete stark-raving insanity seen in some comedies.
    Let’s face it, for this sort of thing Peter Sellers is great. Seeing his face with makeup to appear Indian is … questionable, but it’s the kind of thing he did often. Part of the humor arises from his being an outsider too, someone who doesn’t quite blend in with the crowd even though he’s wearing a suit and tie. He’s relentlessly polite and refuses to give offense, which makes his struggles funnier. Another character is an appetizer man who keeps swigging away from the drinks he brings out, until he’s plastered enough to just walk through the pond instead of using the stepping stones.
    There’s also a Henry Mancini score and a couple of diegetic tunes. One comes from a pretty French woman who came to the place with a lousy guy, the other is a rocking song played by dedicated musicians who don’t let oncoming soap suds stop their professionalism. Typical with Mancini, the music is good stuff. Many of the fashions, particularly those worn by women, have not aged well. Overall this is a rare late 60s comedy that holds up though, since it’s mostly about a situation that still exists and will continue to plague people for centuries to come most likely.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    It Follows (2014) is a specific type of horror movie, that concerned with suspense and less with gore or a body count. I’ve seen it compared to the original Halloween, and that’s fairly apt. The characters aren’t masters of depth, but they’re a likable bunch, and the protagonist gets put through hell. This is also a movie that refuses to provide unnecessary exposition, which in horror movies is often silly and superfluous.
    After an opening that graphically illustrates the consequences of whatever malevolent force is at large, we meet our lead, Jay (Maika Monroe). She’s not long out of high school and interested in a new boyfriend. He’s a pretty good guy, though he might unaccountably freak out if he seems to see someone she doesn’t…. That’s no reason to give up on the guy though, and she has sex with him in a car.
    Then he knocks her out with ether and she wakes up tied to a wheelchair in an abandoned building. While her mind is not really on what he’s saying, a lot of words pass anyway, and soon enough she sees a figure approaching. Quickly, the details are tossed out: it can take any human form it wants, whatever will help it get close. She will be followed by it forever, but by having sex with someone else it can be passed on. If that person dies, the person who passed it on will have to avoid it again.
    While initially she’s just in shock and doesn’t process this information too well, the truth of his words is soon revealed. With her sister and several other friends, an escape is sought. After all, it only walks. It never stops though, and eventually the idea of passing this scourge on to someone else begins to seem appealing… even if it amounts to a death sentence.
    The forms it takes are varied, and some are definitely disturbing. It may take the form of a grandparent, or a young woman, or a messed-up mental patient, or someone’s mother. While it doesn’t necessarily strive for consistency by choosing a form that will lull the hunted into complacency, even when it does choose a familiar personage the singleminded state tends to give it away, along with the steady and implacable gait.
    Rather than jump scares, this is a movie that allows the threat to be seen and built upon. One of the creepiest scenes has a group of unknowing people with something coming upon them from behind. Since only one person can see its approach, invisibility also has to be contended with. We have one thoroughly rattled woman to empathize with here.
    The music is very much in the style of 80s movies, synth-heavy and loud. At first it was too loud for me, but I got used to the style after a bit and appreciated the effectiveness.
    There are certainly things I can criticize – showing exactly what happens when a person is caught didn’t work, and leaving it to the imagination would have been better. While it’s excusable given her rattled mental state, this woman does a couple of panicked things that are kind of stupid. I’m still not entirely sure what the plan at the end was, although it makes for an intense confrontation.
    Nevertheless, this succeeded in a good test for a horror movie: does it make you sleep a little less well that night? That happened with me. The ending is just ambiguous enough. A hard-to-determine time setting (it’s got some technology from the present but mostly seems set 20-30 years ago) makes it a challenge to pinpoint.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Back when it was new, I saw the Farrelly Brothers’ remake of The Heartbreak Kid, but having seen the original (1972), I can definitely say what I suspected at the time: their version was inferior. Not that the original is some kind of towering comedic masterpiece that stomps all over everything else from the early 70s, but it managed to be interesting throughout, which is more than can be said for the remake. It also stars Charles Grodin, a man who is generally a lot of fun to watch.
    The situation here is similar to the remake, except that instead of an extended ‘getting to know you’ beginning in which the male lead is given some impetus to choose a spouse quickly, we’re through the whole wedding in less than ten minutes and off on the honeymoon. Two New Yorkers go off to Florida, and there Grodin starts to think twice about the woman he’s with. She winds up incapacitated for a day after a bad sunburn, and he starts to hang out with another woman (Cybill Shepherd) as much as he can. She’s accommodating, and he’s eager. She knows he’s just married, and doesn’t appear to mind. Her father just might though, and he’s a bigtime businessman from Minnesota who doesn’t take kindly to a man he instantly is leery of.
    I guess the big difference in the original is the fact that no one was trying to be kind to any of the characters. Grodin plays a self-centered jerk who has good moments, but is really the kind of guy who doesn’t think things through and then tries to weasel his way out of trouble. Shepherd is a tease, and hardly an innocent foil. The new wife is less well sketched, but she comes across as a harridan at times, and we understand why Grodin wouldn’t want to be together with her – maybe that’s why the wedding happened so early, to spare any unconvincing Meet Cute moments.
    This is a black comedy, and how funny those are really depends upon the individual. I didn’t laugh a great deal during this thing, although one of Grodin’s speeches to his wife about how he met up with an army buddy and got into a car crash that must have been covered up by the oil companies was pretty funny. I was nevertheless interested the whole way through, which is more than many comedies can manage.
    The print could do with a massive restoration though. Obviously many other Neil Simon movies have been given a better rollout, because this cropped print looked like untouched VHS from the 80s. Better than nothing, sure, but in the current age it’s hard to excuse.
    One other note: “They Long to Be (Close to You)” is featured prominently. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but I’ve never thought that was anywhere close to the Carpenters’ finest work. Hearing Grodin hum it to himself at the conclusion is an interesting thing, though I don’t necessarily get how it’s ironic or has a satiric angle.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Cahill, United States Marshal (1973) is a movie of minor pleasures, emblematic of John Wayne’s late career. It’s not a great Western, but it offers enough enjoyment to be worth a look, especially for fans of Duke. Most of the other players do their job well, but his presence is what makes this interesting.
    The setup is different than any I’ve seen before, which is nifty in the Western world. While Marshal Cahill is away apprehending suspects on a different case, the town in which he resides has another problem. Several men lead by George Kennedy have an outside agent to get the keys and spring them from the jail just long enough to rob the local bank. Doing this doesn’t come unnoticed, even though the outside agent set a fire in the stable to keep everyone’s attention. The other local marshal and a deputy get killed attempting to stop the robbery, and the perpetrators get back into jail before anyone else can catch them in the act.
    What gives this an unexpected wrinkle is that Marshal Cahill’s two sons are among the perpetrators. The 17 year old was actually in the jail cell after getting into a fight, and the 9-10 year old is the outside agent whose participation was instrumental. These two started with such illegal activities in a misguided attempt to garner more attention from their usually-absent father, but second thoughts start to fill their heads afterward. In particular, the younger son buried the money stolen from the bank, but isn’t eager to reveal its location the next day. That might not be a smart idea when confronted with men who have proved willing to use lethal force to get their way, though.
    Once Marshal Cahill is back in town, he gets the word and sets about finding the perpetrators. With the deputized help of his older son and an old friend tracker, he does indeed find some strangers who have money. Their story is that the money came from a transaction hundreds of miles away, but the marshal has enough to bring them in. Western justice tended to be swift, and soon these four innocent men are awaiting their hanging. This weighs terribly on the sons, who try to grab the money and get it back to the bank without informing their father, who knows something is up.
    It’s not a great movie, principally because a lot of the issues it raises could have been dealt with further and better. Merely raising such issues in the first place is more than many Westerns tried though. The subject matter of being an absentee father mattered quite a bit to Wayne in real life, and one surprisingly long shot that is held for over a minute finds him ruminating about it in the front of the frame while his son is seated in the back. The monologue here isn’t world-beating in depth, but it feels heartfelt. Cahill also deals with the subject of mob justice, which sickens him: an impromptu posse of people who had money in the bank is stared down by him when they want to grab the (innocent) men caught in the hills and lynch them. The subject isn’t addressed much after that, except from the fact that these men were apparently tried and found guilty with great speed.

    Many other moments in the film are made memorable because of John Wayne. The opening scene of him finding a quintet of men in the snowy mountains and getting the better of the situation through sheer presence is something not many actors can pull off. When his deputized son is rude to a Native woman he calls a ‘squaw,’ Wayne knocks him off the horse into the mud, and apologizes for the problem with the boy’s upbringing. The sight of him attempting to make a donkey serve as a mount late in the movie is also amusing.
    The print could use some restoration, given that it doesn’t look great. The shootout at the end isn’t anything special either, though it’s not awful. Director Andrew McLaglen was never a standout talent, and would direct Joe Don Baker in the flabby Mitchell just a couple years later, but he does a workmanlike job here. By 1973 not many Westerns were being released anymore, and I’d have a hard time arguing this would be worth a concentrated search to find. It’s fun though. Maybe not for Wayne haters, but I’m not in that camp.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    The Horse Soldiers (1959) is one of the least-discussed entries in the John Ford/John Wayne filmography, even though it has a lot on the surface to attract interest. While the title makes it sound like a Western, it’s actually set during the Civil War with a Union cavalry regiment operating in Mississippi ahead of Grant investing Vicksburg. A doctor played by William Holden is along for the ride, and he gets along badly with Wayne’s colonel in command.
    To start, the cinematography is great. This thing looks excellent – a hallmark of John Ford movies in general. In Cinemascope Technicolor it’s a sight for the eyes.
    Most of the story is interesting too, although the complaint could be justifiably lodged that almost no black residents of Mississippi are featured. Aside from a scene in which Holden’s doctor assists with a childbirth, the only black person prominently seen is the servant of the leading lady. We can blame this on 1959 and its terrible treatment to black people represented in the media, I think. It’s bad history of course – Mississippi was filled with slaves in 1863 who found an awful lot of good reasons to assist Union soldiers in every way they could. Making anything set in Mississippi that includes almost no black people would deserve some kind of explanation up through today, and this movie doesn’t have it just because of the time it was made.
    Leaving that aside, the story is fairly interesting for most of the running time. Wayne’s adversarial relationship with Holden’s doctor is not explained until late in the proceedings, though not trusting a doctor in that period was hardly a unique stance. The setting is interesting, as there haven’t been very many Civil War movies that deal with the combat in Mississippi. There is of course a love interest for Wayne’s character, a Southern woman whose ornery character will eventually be worn down a bit by admiration for this man in particular, not for Northern ideology. Several battle scenes are depicted, and the narrative stays interesting.
    Up until the climax, where things just peter out and end instead of really concluding. There appears to be an offscreen reason for this: a stuntman John Ford really liked died during the filming of this movie. That man’s death left the formerly insatiable director very despondent and uncaring. It apparently took a toll on Wayne too, who might have otherwise inserted some energy. Thus the movie ends ineffectually, and its last ten or so minutes seem perfunctory. It’s actually a shame, but this could therefore become something to be remade and improved upon. Not that THAT is a likely event, but it could happen.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Biloxi Blues (1988) is one of the less-remembered Neil Simon projects from over the years, dealing with the common subject matter of basic training during World War II. It may be based on Simon’s own recollections of this period in his life, but that doesn’t make it any more interesting compared to many other basic training movies. Full Metal Jacket, this is not.
    Several new recruits are heading down to Biloxi for basic training in the spring of 1945. Matthew Broderick plays the obvious Simon surrogate Kowalski, a New York-based guy who kinda keeps to himself and takes notes in his journal on whatever occurs to him. There’s a Jewish guy who gets bullied by all the WASPs. There’s a thick-headed beefy guy without a whole lot upstairs. There are several others, equally unmemorable, to fill out the various stereotypes seen in most movies involving military groups.
    Last, but certainly not least, is the drill sergeant. He’s played by Christopher Walken, in a performance that’s interesting for a little while solely because he relies on quiet menace instead of loud bombastic shouting. He’s also interesting because Christopher Walken is interesting in general, but he doesn’t get a whole lot of note to do. Aside from listening at Kowalski’s ear a couple of times and pretending he heard something to make the rest of the recruits have to do something unpleasant, his stuff just boils down to a paranoid scene with a gun that’s supposed to form the climax, but is instead uninvolving.
    It’s not that this movie is flat-out bad, more that it doesn’t offer anything dozens of other boot camp and war movies don’t also offer. Sure there are a few good lines scattered around, but the movie has a deflating ending in which the guys sure learned some valuable stuff even though they didn’t go into combat because the war ended. Biloxi has little character – it could have been named for any number of other towns with boot camps and made no difference. This is neither good nor bad enough to remember, and thus its indifferent reception years later makes perfect sense.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    The Queen (2006) is a quiet, thoughtful drama that purports certain things about the English royal family during the summer of 1997. It earned Helen Mirren Best Actress at the Academy Awards, and indeed her portrayal of Elizabeth II is well done. It’s something I find easier to admire from a distance than with any sort of great enthusiasm, but the project is well done all the way.
    Its principal characters are Elizabeth II and newly elected prime minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), though Prince Philip (James Cromwell) is pretty important too. The situation is one well-remembered: that time in August 1997 when Diana and Dodi Fayed went on a drive in Paris and did not survive the trip. Diana plays herself via archive footage – not difficult considering how much of her life wound up on TV. Bill Clinton also plays himself, briefly, in a TV clip. This is a UK story though, and the focus is on both the royalty and how they’re perceived by the country’s citizens during this time. Plenty of footage from the time is blended effectively with some using the actors of the movie. The queen understandably gets the lion’s share of the focus, and she’s portrayed as a woman who believes in her core that a certain standard of behavior is part and parcel of her station, something she takes very seriously indeed. That standard of behavior does not include public displays of emotion or baring of feelings, which goes over very badly with an inconsolable populace. Tony Blair gets the unenviable task of trying to guide a monarch he respects very much into doing something that will keep public rage from crossing a precipice, especially when his own wife is an anti-monarchist.
    Elizabeth’s portrayal is one thing, but certain other royals get plenty of characterization too. Philip is portrayed as more dedicated to royal principles than even his wife, and his preferred activity with regard to the grandchildren is to take them stag hunting. Charles is depicted as a wishy-washy type willing to jump whichever way seems best. William and Harry were too young to figure much in the proceedings. The Queen Mother is shown as a good-humored woman who doesn’t stay stuck in any one track of mind to the exclusion of all else – fair enough considering her age at the time. Other members of the family are mentioned but don’t get enough time to matter much, but that’s also understandable since this isn’t a long enough movie to attempt that kind of character study. Whether the figures in this movie are completely accurate to life is probably impossible to say, but there’s bound to be at least a nugget of truth to them.
    The movie as a whole is very well made and interesting, without managing to attract much fervor from me one way or another. It also has a strange subtext involving a stag the queen sees that gets killed by a neighbor from a different estate – the meaning eludes me. The film does a pretty good job of remaining evenhanded in its portrayal, though the arguments against the monarchy seem to be more impassioned. It’s not a plot-heavy movie, and the actors do excellent work. For anyone with an inkling of interest in the subject, it’s rather good.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
  • Mike MoehnkeMike Moehnke Code: Kirin Administrators
    Ex Machina (2015) is a serious probe of where artificial intelligence may go in the near future. It’s not very different in theme from numerous other science fiction stories over the decades, nor does it need to be. The questions it poses have intrigued writers ever since the idea of AI was first arrived at. The major element that couldn’t have been used years ago is the idea of search engine and mobile phone traffic helping to instruct the computer, but otherwise this general story could have been told a long time ago. That just ensures it’s not an of-the-moment issue that will be relegated to the dustbin in years to come though.
    Caleb is one lucky guy. He won a company-wide lottery to spend a week with the founder of BlueBook, Nathan, at his enormous estate far from any other civilization. It apparently takes two hours of helicopter flight to get to the center of this spread, and there are no roads inside the place either. Nathan lives in a compound that is half rustic outdoor cabin and half high-tech bunker. After getting an ID card that will only unlock some of the doors for him, Caleb gets to sign a very restrictive NDA before learning why he is here. Nathan has developed an AI with a body which is called Ava. Caleb will be the first person other than Nathan with whom she has interacted, and he has to decide via interview whether she passes the Turing test of sentience.
    Ava herself is a very interesting special effect: while she has a human face, hands, and feet, nothing else looks that way. Her chest and pelvis are covered with a gray fiber cloth, while the top of her head, neck, and limbs are clear plastic to show the circuitry at work. When she moves, a soft whirring noise can be heard as those mechanical parts are used. The skin is just an extremely good duplicate, though.
    Caleb’s initial impressions are favorable, but his conversations with Nathan regarding the discoveries they make are gradually transformed. Caleb finds himself susceptible to the idea that this is indeed a sentient creature, and perhaps should not be held captive to its creator if his captivity promises to augur her destruction. Nathan readily admits that this is just the latest version, and he’s gone through many prior AIs to incorporate all the necessary alterations. Is it right that he plans to erase Ava once this week is over, to make a new AI with the input from these sessions incorporated?
    In general this is a slow-moving, thoughtful picture. It’s heavy with dialogue in spots that is designed to further the ideas at the core of sci-fi. The effects are limited but quite strong in making the robot designs come alive. I didn’t see this as a revelatory movie on the level of the best sci-fi ever made, but that’s merely to say it’s not necessarily a GREAT movie. It’s quite good, and worth seeing. I can object to certain aspects of the climax that provide firm answers to questions the audience might have been better off assigning its own conclusions to, yes. That’s a minor thing though, and subject to debate.
    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 June 2015
    I don’t like the original Poltergeist. That disposed me kindly towards a remake (2015), which was not unnecessary as far as I’m concerned. It’s not a great movie by any stretch, but it didn’t actively anger me like the original did. So it’s an improvement, and I’m glad to have seen it.
    The story is pretty much the same: family moves into new house with creepy stuff aplenty. This one gets points for one of the most interesting title placements I’ve ever seen, one that isn’t obtrusive and actually requires a little attention be paid. Sam Rockwell is a good dad for this family, and gets several good moments. The ‘boo’ moments admittedly start coming earlier than ideal and disrupt the flow a bit, but that’s just how modern horror movies tend to operate.
    Aside from the parents, we get a family along the lines of the original: teenage daughter, elementary-age son, and kindergarten-age daughter. Most of the major moments of the original are found here, including a disappointing read for “they’re here” that will make no one think worse of Heather O’Rourke. Some new material about dad having lost his job and thus being in the market for a cheap house is included, but by the middle any outside stuff is forgotten. Instead we have the daughter abducted by vengeful spirits and needing a rescue. That means bringing in some experts, eventually including Jared Harris as the paranormal veteran in chief, complete with a reality TV show.
    Seeing analog static appear on a modern HDTV and a touch-screen cell phone is interesting. It makes sense given the movie’s spirit world intruding on the living one, but static has mostly vanished from the screens we look at now. We also get evil clown toys and a nasty tree (both of which just kind of recede from view after supplying their requisite scares in the middle) and a trip to the spirit world. However, we do not get a family acting as if everything is hunky dory once the rescue has taken place, and I applaud this version for letting the element that infuriated me most about the original be fixed. THANK YOU.
    Jared Harris brings a great screen presence when he appears, and quite frankly I prefer him to Zelda Rubinstein as the expert among experts to resolve this stuff. The effects of the original Poltergeist were pretty darn good, while these are a mix of decent practical stuff with fairly generic CG that could have come from almost anything (a good example is the appearance of a corpse from the ground, which looks terrible because of the lackluster CG). Even so, I enjoyed this more than the first. The family members did not come across as complete dullards deserving of whatever happened to them, and for that I applaud. It still isn’t a great movie, but I liked it.
    It's not what he's eating, but what's eating him that makes it ... sort of interesting.
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