Monday, February 20, 2012

The Stephen King Project: Quicksilver Highway

I had never heard of the movie Quicksilver Highway before beginning this project and I wish that were still the case. I'm not sure which channel this was originally on, it feels Showtime-y, but that channel probably should be boycotted. Also, full disclosure, I only watched about twenty minutes of this movie before I threw up and switched over to actually "talking" to my friends.
The story begins with a soon to be married couple stranded on the side of a little used back country highway. The groom has stripped to his pants and wife beater while the bride is still in full regalia. This short segment is so riddled with plot holes (it's only an introduction to the story for christ's sake) that I felt like rewinding it to get every quip in that I felt it deserved. But for as much trouble the opening caused me I was not prepared for Christopher Lloyd's appearance as Aaron Quicksilver.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Stephen King Project: Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary (or Stephen King's Pet Sematary) was released in April of 1989. I don't think I saw it in the theater as I was only eleven but that really wouldn't have stopped my dad at that point. Shockingly it made 57 million dollars at the box office. Not bad on a budget of 11 million. That's not to say it's good (or even watchable). Directed by Mary Lambert from a script by Stephen King, Pet Sematary is slow, boring, and pretty much devoid of frights.
The story begins with a family of bad actors moving into a rural Maine house on an insanely dangerous highway. This is instantly preposterous as any family with two small children would cross this house off their list almost immediately. The father, played with the acting chops of a wet newspaper by Dale Midkiff, is a doctor who treats a jogger named Pascow who has been run over by a car. When he appears later he has a flap of skin hanging off his head like an emo haircut and no one seems to be able to say his name the same way twice. What I liked most about him was his zip up hoodie.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Stephen King Project

The Movie Goer is in the beginning stages of a long, intense project that could potentially drive all three of us to the brink of total calamity. The Stephen King Project will force us to view each and every Stephen King adaptation that ever disgraced your local cineplex or shamed your television screen. We'll watch the good (The Shining, Stand By Me), the truly awful (The Lawnmower Man, Dreamcatcher), and the ones we've never even heard of (Riding the Bullet?). We will handle them out of order because that's how we do things and, to be honest, it's going to be hard to force any of us to watch the Nightmares and Dreamscapes miniseries or Secret Window.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin

In our younger days, my brother and I went through a period of time being semi-obsessed with both Tintin and Asterix and Obelix. There was something appealing about the utter Euroness of them both. The exotic settings and adventures certainly played to my youthful sensibilities. And probably the budding hipster in me loved that nobody else had them and we could keep their mythologies to ourselves. I still consider the Tintin cartoon to be one of my all time favorites and was pretty disappointed to learn of its adaption into a big screen feature.
The fact that both Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson were teaming up together on this one only intensified my apprehension. I have real problems with both directors. Why Spielbergian hasn't become an adjective for overwrought schmaltz is beyond me. And though they may have been fun at the time the Lord of the Rings trilogy is now laughable to watch. In fact, Peter Jackson directed one good movie, Heavenly Creatures, a long time ago. But Jackson didn't direct Tintin, Spielberg did and it's his fault that it wasn't very good.
The Adventures of Tintin begins with Tintin buying the model of an old ship at a flea market. Obviously this model ship will be the crux of the mystery and it is soon revealed to be so as an American detective offers him more than double what he paid for it. Sensing its worth, Tintin refuses and the game is afoot. If the movie had spent more time following Tintin as he uncovered the mystery of the ship then I might not have had so many problems with the movie. After a short period of time we learn that there are three models of the ship each containing clues to the location of the actual ship that sank to the bottom of the ocean full of treasure. What ensues is basically a jumble of implausible action sequences that finish out the film. By the end of the movie I basically felt bombarded by flat blocks of bland color palatte struggling to form 3D images. The end of the movie completely flops.
But Tintin wasn't totally without charms. I'm a big fan of Jamie Bell and he did a good job capturing the essence of Tintin and Andy Serkis was great as Captain Haddock but the real star of the movie to me was Snowy. I'm guessing they didn't dress a real dog up in one of those idiotic looking suits so I'm going to have to give the animators credit for that one. For a fan of the series there are many subtle references to other story lines and the spirit of the world created by Herge was definitely in tact throughout the film. The inclusion of Thompson and Thomson was fun and their interplay provided some of the funniest parts of the film though their role in the story was minimal.
I have to say that the animation didn't look as bad as I thought it would. In part because I thought it was going to be virtually unwatchable. I don't really understand why animators are trying to make things look more and more lifelike. I've always thought the wonder of cartoons was that they weren't lifelike at all. Things can happen in cartoons that don't in real life. Physics can be suspended. But if animators want to continually make things look more and more real then I'm going to suspend my belief less and less.
So, though I think it doesn't quite work overall, fans of Tintin or younger movie goers should find enough to  enjoy but I wouldn't pay full price for it and I don't think the 3D added much to the viewing experience. I'd wait for DVD.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 15 Movies of 2011

I saw a lot of movies in 2011, but even I missed a few. Ones I didn't get a chance to see but might have included on this list: Melancholia, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Shame, The Artist, The Skin I Live In, The Interrupters, Pariah, A Dangerous Method, and Week End.

In general I like Muppets. Puppets, ehh, but Muppets, great. One of my earliest memories is watching The Muppet Show at my great-grandmother's house while eating those little candies with the strawberry printed wrappers. I wasn't sure how this addition to the oeuvre would fair but was pleasantly surprised by it. Sure the voices are a little off and there was scarcely any Rowlf but I still had fun and that's what this movie was all about. I could, however, have done without the Chris Cooper rap number. 

How many movies have you seen about a teenager desperate to lose his virginity? Plenty. That's how many. But Submarine offers an actual refreshing take on the tired old coming of age trope. Directed by Richard Ayoade, Submarine is charming and warm. It's sort of a grittier, more realistic, British version of Rushmore. If that makes any sense. Every performance is great but I especially liked Noah Taylor as the father of the love starved protagonist. Submarine also reinforces my theory that you should see every movie with Paddy Considine in it.

Brendan Gleeson is one of my all time favorite actors. He's weird looking and fat which are big selling points for me. It doesn't hurt that he's an amazing comedic actor that steals every scene he's in. He doesn't disappoint in the Guard. He sort of comes off as a cross between Georges Simenon's Maigret and Abel Ferrera's Bad Lieutenant. He's amazing. Oh, and Don Cheadle is in it too but I'm not going to subject you to any of my depraved "Cheadle-ing."

I'd call it a fitting end. Which is more than you can ever really hope for with something of this magnitude and scope. I didn't really grow up with any of the books or anything like that but I did love them in my own way. I was really glad they got the movies on track after the first two disasters and I'm totally pleased with how it all played out.

Attack the Block felt like SF Goonies or maybe a clever update of Monster Squad. It's just a fun movie. They way they handled the special effects, minimal, frightening, combined with the like-able young cast will make this movie a cult classic.

Win Win features Paul Giamatti at his schlubby best as a down on his luck lawyer that moonlights as the high school wrestling coach. It's ultimately a feel good sports movie, but the performances by Giamatti, Amy Ryan and especially Bobby Cannavale make Win Win one of my favorites of the year. Tom McCarthy, who also directed The Station Agent, has a way of capturing the tension of real life loneliness and isolation that few directors can touch. 

If Tilda Swinton doesn't win an Oscar for this movie then the Oscars can go fuck themselves...again. I didn't see a more riveting performance by an actor all year. I read this book a long time ago after my mom checked it out from the Bookmobile and it was pretty good but I didn't see this movie in it at all. Lynne Ramsey is a real cinematic genius. If you aren't familiar with her work, become familiar with it ASAP.

I'm not going to say this is the best samurai movie of all time or anything but it certainly is the best of the more modern smattering of them. 13 Assassins is the best film in its genre of the last ten years. I will go on record with that. Takashi Miike should be doing this instead of doing anything else at all. I know we all loved those creepy incest scenes in Visitor Q and the weird birth scene in Gozu but come on, if he can do this he should cool it with the other. 

Elizabeth Olson was so good in this movie. Seriously, she almost single-handedly makes up for me ever having laid eyes on her older, uglier, twin sisters. This movie is creepy and disturbing in a way that just sort of seeped into my skin without even realizing it. The director, Sean Durkin, did such an amazing job withholding images and ideas while still managing to place them in my consciousness. And another commanding performance by John Hawkes who's really starting to get the attention he's deserved since Deadwood. 

Michael Shannon is probably my favorite actor working today. I've never seen a less than exceptional performance from him. Take Shelter is his second collaboration with director Jeff Nichols. They previously teamed up on the little seen but amazing Shotgun Stories. Take Shelter might have missed the psychiatric mark a couple of times but the mounting dread and intense visuals more than made up for it. Jessica Chastain was also quite good and, I must say, my new film crush. 

Hugo earns a place on my list by virtue of making me believe that 3D movies can work. I was deeply impressed by the way Hugo was filmed. Martin Scorsese proves once again that his perhaps the greatest director of all time.  

Look deep into those eyes, feel your heart beat faster and faster, that's right, you're in love with Ryan Gosling. Don't worry, we all are. Except Lauren. Who just claimed he was distinctly not awesome as a person. But Drive has more than the pitter patter of Gosling infatuation. Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan and Albert Brooks are all masterful. The only thing about Drive that doesn't work is Ron Perlman. He's just over matched and working too hard. 

Since the early 90's it has been a crap shoot which Woody Allen you were going to get every time a new movie came out. Is it going to be Mighty Aphrodite or Small Time Crooks? Luckily the last couple of years have seen a few more hits than misses. Vicky, Christina, Barcelona was fantastic and now Midnight in Paris tops even that film. It's so nice to see him at the top of his game. Him and Owen Wilson.

2. The Trip

To bed, for tomorrow we rise at 9:00 for 9:30! I've watched this movie four times already. Can't get enough of it. Can't get enough of the, Coogs.

Any time Kelley Reichardt comes out with a movie you can pretty much place it at or near the top of my list. I literally cannot wait to see what she does next. I idly think about it sometimes. Every performance is fine tuned and riveting. The danger these travelers in is pervasive and growing as the movie churns along at an admitted snail like place. Despite being shot in the wide open expanse of Eastern Oregon, Meek's Cutoff is so closed and intimate. Easily my favorite film of the year.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Terrance Mallick directed my favorite movie of all time, Badlands.  In many ways, it's been downhill since then.  Days of Heaven isn't as good as Badlands, The Thin Red Line isn't as good as Days of Heaven and even though it has its moments, I tend to forget that The New World even exists.  That's all four of his previous movies in both descending and chronological order so, unfortunately,  Terrance Mallick does have something in common with Kevin Smith besides a beard.
Except I think I really liked Tree of Life.  I think.  I knew what it was before I went to see it.  I can't imagine going into that movie having no clue what was going to happen.  There's sort of two movies going on, it struck me as very literary.  There's the emergence of life happening from the big bang to the birth and dominance of dinosaurs and there's the emergence of the main character within himself and in his family.  A lot of the movie is extremely vague, Sean Penn's parts in particular.  He has almost no lines in the entire movie and spends most of the movie existentially grimacing in an office building.  Awesome, right?  Kind of.
The portion of the movie that deals with Sean Penn's memories of his childhood are supremely done and are perhaps the single best collected depictions of childhood captured on film.  There are other great ones. I really like the movie George Washington for the same reason and David Gordon Green is pretty unabashed about his love for Mallick.  The weight of these scenes permeate the film.  The movie has the feeling of a memory that's so vivid, you aren't sure if you read it, remembered it or watched it. 
But at the same time I was fairly bored by the ending of the movie and some of the sort of galactic commentary that it was providing.  I'm not sure why Mallick felt the need to completely construct and deconstruct something right in front of me.  I'd rather do the deconstructing myself.  I'm not so base a film goer that I can't handle severely non linear films but I have to admit that they often feel like tricks designed to infer weight and heft to a film that perhaps lack real strength.  That isn't the case with Tree of Life but I just found it all a little distracting.  I know Terrance Mallick has made some real art but he just didn't completely convince me he can still do it today.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Rocky IV

Rocky IV

I'm back, now that my class is over, the blog is coming back full force, or half force, I don't know, we'll see what kind of force I can muster when it's 115 degrees outside.  Anyway, today is the 4th of July and I'm watching the most American of movies, Rocky IV.
Some people might say there are more representative examples of American movies.  It's obviously not the best or even a relatively good film.  Even among the Rocky movies it isn't the best, it isn't even one of the two best.  But it is so intensely Pro American that it is a perfect movie for the 4th.
Rocky IV came out in 1985, firmly rooted in the Cold War and Reagan-y Russkie shit.  The plot is as inane as you might imagine.  At the beginning Rocky is living high on the hog, after defeating Clubber Lang at the end of Rocky III, he has parlayed his successful boxing career into a huge mansion and comfortable life style.  He's so fucking rich he buys Pauly a robot for his birthday.  Does Pauly want or need a robot for his birthday? No and no.  Do we want to see Pauly get a robot for his birthday? No, no one cares.  Soon the existence of a Russian super boxing freak becomes known to our friends, Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed.  The now retired Creed feels compelled to challenge Ivan Drago, played with resounding aplomb by Dolph Lundgren.  Rocky counsels against it but, like most of us after receiving counsel from Sylvester Stallone, he decides to do the opposite.  Appollo sets up an exhibition match against the Red Manimal (my own better nickname for him) because he feels a dire need to represent America.
The exhibition match is one of the most ridiculous depictions of a sporting event ever captured on film.  First of all, it's an exhibition match which means, what?  It means it doesn't fucking count.  So why is Apollo arriving on some sort of floating stage dancing around with James Brown singing Living In America.  The only thing good about that song is what Weird Al Yankovic did to it, Living with a Hernia is one of his serious Jams.  Drago just stands in the ring while Apollo makes a fool of himself.  Then he kills him in the second round.  Literally.  Drago rains blows upon his head and face unchecked by any defense whatsoever.  In between rounds, Apollo implores Rocky to not throw the towel in no matter what.  So he doesn't and the only friend he's ever had dies because Rocky is stupid.  I'd like to take a second here and point out that just before Apollo takes the last of the beating that ends his weird life, the referee tries to intervene and stop the fight.  Drago flings him aside callously and returns to pummeling Apollo's life force from his body.  First, how is that not a criminal act? And second, how was he ever allowed to box again?  Who sanctioned the next fight?  No boxing organization would ever let that happen.
Well, Rocky decides to fight him instead of trying to have him arrested and sent to prison.  But he has to fight him in Russia for some reason, probably because Drago is a murderer and there's obviously no extradition in Russia.  Rocky takes his team to Russia and, in one of the all time greatest montages, he begins to train by running in the snow and lifting rocks in a net.  Drago, of course, is using all of the hyper modern secret science techniques that we were all afraid of in the 80's.  It's supposed to demonstrate America's gumption, no nonsense determination, and ingenuity that got us to the top.  Really he just looks like an idiot chopping down an old growth tree in the middle of someone else's country.  How American.  During the montage, Drago repeatedly hang cleans around 500 pounds which would put him in the Olympics every year and he punches a machine that says the power of his punches is 2150 pounds per sq inch.  So, you know, twice as hard as Mike Tyson.
Just before the fight starts, Drago delivers my favorite line in all of the Rocky movies, "I will break you."  I cheered when he said it this time.  By cheered, I mean said, "Awesome," quietly to myself.  So the fight is basically exactly what you expect.  Rocky takes about seventy blows straight to the dead, meat filled dome and then starts fighting back.  At one point, Drago claims he isn't human and that he is, in fact, "a piece of iron."  I think what he probably meant was that he had the personality of a piece of iron but something might have been dropped in translation.  At some point towards the end of the fight, the Russian crowd begins chanting for Rocky.  That's probably the most unbelievable part of the whole movie.  Obviously, America, I mean Rocky, wins the fight and American dominance is restored to the fictitious boxing world.  Then he gives a speech where he claims to have been "thinking" during the fight.  That's a laugh.  Then the movie ends.
This viewing of Rocky IV was enhanced by Lauren's insistence that, in this installment of the Rocky saga, Dustin Hoffman should have been cast as Rocky.  She offered no reasoning but I had to concur that I would have enjoyed watching Dustin Hoffman cut a giant tree down.