Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Jingle Watch: Jingle All the Way (1996)

Well, you can tell Doug is in town, because somehow we found ourselves watching the 1996 Christmas catastrophe Jingle All The Way starring Arnie and Sinbad.

This is the movie most famous for ending the cinematic career of stand-up comedian Sinbad (your mileage will vary on Sinbad.  Doug = not a fan) and the debut of Jake Lloyd in a part that in no way should have inspired confidence that he could carry a Star Wars movie.

It's an odd movie, and I have my theories about it.  It's set as this family friendly comedy, but it's not really fun for kids to see "Dad" getting tortured for an hour, I'd think.  A movie in '96 was a little early for what we'd get with Bad Santa (a movie I finally watched a couple years ago and firmly recommend) or other more adult-oriented holiday comedies.

And, Arnie is a businessman first, actor second.  If he was going to be in a movie, he was going to sell as many tickets as possible.  In fact, I have a firm memory of Arnie talking about the movie upon its release.  I was in film school at the time and was supposed to be making ART, but I also was a dedicated Arnie fan and saw almost all of his movies in the theater.  And here he was pitching the movie not as a story or entertainment, but as a holiday product everyone could enjoy (bring Grandma!).  It informed a lot of how I think of the movie business today, Arnie's relationship to said business, and profitability.

Monday, November 23, 2015

My Secret Shame: I Watch a Whole Lotta Hallmark Christmas Movies

About ten years ago I was up late doing who knows what, and I stumbled across a Christmas movie about a limo driver who has to haul Howard Hesseman around as he hands out money while seeking the daughter he lost track of long ago.  The movie was called Crazy for Christmas (2005), and it was just astonishingly bad.

Shot on a TV budget on the sunny streets of Los Angeles during a season that seemed to not at all be the Christmas season, I found the movie oddly compelling.  A razor thin plot, name actor kinda slumming it, a completely un-buyable situation with main characters moving about with the logic of NPCs in a Sims game thanks to the the incredibly piss-poor writing, all with a cheap-ass score cueing you for the wacky scenes versus the heartfelt moments of weepy joy?

Man.  It was like Christmas Crack.

And I was hooked.  Everything I loved about talking over a bad movie I could find here with the added bonus of the sheer, brutal formula-driven weirdly non-religious-specific Christmas magic of each of these movies.

Now, very specifically, I consider myself a connoisseur of the Christmas movies on the Hallmark Network.  I don't quite have down the nuance of the movies on the Lifetime network, Up! Network (yes.  Up!), or the smattering of movies that have already made their way onto ABC Family.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pootie Watch: Pootie Tang (2001)

You're either on board with Pootie Tang (2001), or you are not.  And, according to what I've heard over the years, the studio that put out this film was decidedly not onboard with what a still kinda unknown Louis CK and his co-horts were up to.

What's amazing about the movie is that to make this movie today would cost infinitely more, as this thing is the starting gate for a whole lot of talent that people know today.  No, Louis CK never appears in the movie, but we get Wanda Sykes in her break-out role (no kidding), David Cross, Jennifer Coolidge, J.B. Smoove, Missy Elliot, Todd Barry, John Glaser, Mario Joyner, Dave Attell, Laura Kightlinger.  And, yeah, it also had the then-established Chris Rock and Andy Richter.  But also a very young Kristen Bell in a small role you only see in the credits.

And, of yeah, Costas.  Bob Costas is all up in this movie.

If you've not seen it, it's a bit of an urban super-hero movie.  You get an origin, you get the loss of faith and loss of powers, all in a comedy about a guy named "Pootie Tang" who is one part action hero, one part musician, one part friend of the children.  And who is, according to the movie's tag line "too cool for words".  Sappa Tay.

It is true, at no point in the movie does Pootie Tang ever actually string together any words you can understand.  And that's either totally funny to you, or it is not.

I really don't feel like I'm selling this film at all.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dog Watch: Best in Show (2000)

Back during my young-adulthood, Christopher Guest and his band of actors were putting out a fresh movie every few years as a sort of improv-comedy troupe.  Guest had become pretty famous as part of the cast of This is Spinal Tap, the 1980's death metal spoof doc.  He took the formula and really ran with it.

The list of those movies is pretty short.  

Waiting for Guffman - 1996
Best in Show - 2000
A Mighty Wind - 2003
For Your Consideration - 2006

After a long hiatus from these folks, we got the HBO mini-series Family Tree in 2013, but I hadn't heard about much else.  I heavily associate these movies with my movie-going with Jamie.  We were big, big fans.

Back in 2000, Jamie and I saw Best in Show, and what we'd liked so much in Waiting for Guffman seemed to have continued, and/ or gotten better.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Noir Watch: The Unsuspected (1947)

It's Noirvemeber, and I haven't really been doing my duty to keep up.  Plowing through October and horror films and then thinking about watching mostly just one genre again sounded like being asked to eat a second turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day.   I may like both genres but, man...  So, I have not taken too much of a noir plunge yet this month outside the superlative Fargo on FX.

But if we were going to jump into Noirvember, I was either going to do it by watching Narrow Margin and see Marie Windsor bust everyone's chops, or with another one of my favorite actresses of the genre, Audrey Totter.  And, man, is she ever good in this movie.  I appreciated her the last time I watched the movie, but this time... yowza.

Mad Watch: Mad Love (1935)

We all grew up liking Peter Lorre thanks to the many imitations Mel Blanc performed of his voice in a sea of WB cartoons, and if that worked for you, I can't really recommend enough catching him in roles from his younger days, such as this film - Mad Love (1935) - or in something like The Maltese Falcon.

I'd recorded Mad Love during TCM's October horror movie sprint, but, a bit like The Black Cat, its a tough one to pin down exactly as a horror film, but it's a label that works better than, say "rom-com" in this instance.  Not only does the film partake in acts of horror and madness, it actually begins within a theater clearly meant to be the original Grand Guignol (a topic worth reading up on if you've got a minute).

Not only does the film star Lorre, we also get Colin Clive, an actor I've enjoyed in Frankenstein films but who pops up all too infrequently in other roles.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tarantino Watch: Pulp Fiction (1994)

By Fall of 1994, I was in my second year at the University of Texas.  Back in the 80's and 90's, Austin was a much smaller town, but the avid film scene for both film production and film fans, which would become fertile territory for the Alamo Drafthouse to take hold and grow.  You're welcome, America.  Our 90's love of beer and movies is now our gift to you.

For reasons upon which I am unclear, Quentin Tarantino was well aware he had a particularly vocal fanbase in Austin.  I suspect screenings of Reservoir Dogs at either The Dobie (a small "art house" theater on the edge of campus) or the Village (a larger, equally dumpy art house theater a few miles north of downtown) might have gone well for the director, but I was living in North Houston from 90-93, and missed that window.  

Anyway, Tarantino booked a screening of his new film, Pulp Fiction (1994), on campus at UT Austin about two months before the film's broad release.  I've written before about the experience*, but it was pretty amazing.  Hogg Auditorium, an old-style movie and performance house, was filled to capacity.  The place was rowdy as hell.  People were dressed in black suits and ties.  In sports parlance, this was a hometown crowd.

So, it should come as no surprise that when Amanda Plummer's character took the screen, shouted spittle our direction and then the credits appeared, the crowd went monkey-shit.  Standing en masse, cheering, clapping, roaring really.  And not for the last time.  The adrenaline shot didn't just get the crowd on its feet, if there'd been a police cruiser to turn over and set ablaze, it would have happened.  We were up and down in our seats throughout the screening, and I guess at that point Mr. Tarantino had a good idea there was an audience for his movie.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Snoopy Watch: The Peanuts Movie (2015)

I don't consider myself a hardcore Peanuts fan, but then you have that moment when you realize that somewhere along the line you did, in fact, pick up some Peanuts-related trivia along the way.  I guess reading the newspaper strips your entire youth and watching the same Christmas and Thanksgiving special every year for your entire life will make that happen.

So, this Sunday we were the creepy people who came to the mid-day show of The Peanuts Movie (2015) with no kids in tow.

The movie is so fundamentally a Peanuts project that you half-expect ads for Dolly Madison pastries to pop up, and I did waste a stray thought or two wondering what year this was set in as not a single game console or mobile device made an appearance, and there were gags that included telephone cords and kids going outside without a parent or being fitted with a helmet.

While the movie does reference the Peanuts holiday specials you know and love, it doesn't hang on referencing them for the movie to work.  It's not necessarily an all-new story - it's the story of Charlie Brown becoming infatuated with The Little Red Haired Girl - but it feels like a solid entry in the decades of Peanuts cartoons.

Hanks Watch: Bridge of Spies (2015)

Normally when I want to get out to see a movie like this, work and life get in the way, and I never get around to making time to see them.  Ask me about any Oscar-nominated film of the past ten years and I'll give you a blank stare, because getting out to see a grown-up type movie during the months of November and December is usually not in the cards if I also want to catch superheroes and whatnot.

But, as we were leaving Bond the other night, SimonUK, Jamie and I decided to catch Bridge of Spies (2015) on Saturday morning.

Yes, it's Spielberg, and yes, I know you feel very clever pointing out that Spielberg is emotionally manipulative.  Well, kids, that's sort of the point of telling a story and making a movie, so, kudos to you for noticing that Spielberg is pretty effective at making you feel something other than generating a modest chuckle.

I am utterly unfamiliar with the real-life story upon which the movie is based.  Outside of hearing once that a U2 was shot down over Soviet airspace, I have no recollection of anything else which occurs in the movie, and - you know, one day I will, and I'm sure the movie will have gotten it wrong.  In the meantime, it's a pretty solid screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen (yeah, who knew?), about an attorney who takes up the challenge of defending a Soviet spy at the height of the Cold War.

Inside Out (2015)

The last time I saw a wide-release movie that was intended as one really long metaphor for what was happening elsewhere in the movie was probably when I watched Tron way back in the day.

I didn't catch Inside Out (2015) when it was released earlier this year.  Something about it struck me as a riff on a 1950's educational film where some baritone-voiced omniscient narrator would explain how "Mr. Angry" was responsible for all those bad feelings you have inside, while "Ms. Happiness" was wrestling with him for control.  And, you know, that's more or less exactly what the movie was.  That's not a dig, just kind of my take-away.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Duke Watch: The Cowboys (1972)

It's interesting to see The Duke in a lead role in a 70's-era Western.  If the 1960's ushered in the modern era of filmmaking and the Spaghetti Western turned the genre on its ear, by the 1972 release of The Cowboys, the western had been fertile territory for telling stories stripped down to their essence.   By the late 1960's and into the 1970's, "realism" in violence on the screen had begun to creep in, or, at least, the horror of being shot had become part of the package.

The Cowboys is a bit of a fascinating movie, maybe not flawlessly executed, but it does double duty as both a coming-of-age film and a reminder of both the lives of our forebears in a fictional context (kids were working stiffs up until the 1940's), and of what we thought of as reasonable content for an all-ages audience in 1972.

In short, the movie would never, ever get made today, and it's likely that showing the movie to kids the same age as the ones in the film, despite the PG rating, would likely get you fired.

Bond-Watch: Spectre (2015)

So, I'm not entirely certain how to write about this film, because it is absolutely a continuation of the last three Bond movies, which I enjoyed a lot, but I can't say I've rewatched them a dozen times.  So, first recommendation - while you don't have to have seen the last few movies (there's exposition), if you have time to rewatch them real fast before showing up, certainly can't hurt.

Luckily, I've seen Skyfall a few times, so I remembered, for example why that building in the middle of London had a hole in it.

I also don't want to spoil a movie I'm certain most of you will go see.  So... yeah.  But, in general, Jamie, SimonUK (who loves Bond the way I love Superman), and Jake all liked the movie okay.  Well, not Jake.  He fell asleep.  Long day for Jake.

You guys likely know I'm a fan of Daniel Craig as Bond and the current take on the franchise.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Franken-Watch: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

This year on the 80th anniversary of the release of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), I wrote a post celebrating the film.   You're welcome to check out what I said there about the movie.

Each Halloween I now make it a habit to watch a string of horror films from across the past hundred years, and while the rest of what I'll watch I might change up, I always include the first two Frankenstein films from Universal Studios, Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein.  Of course I just watched Frankenstein (and I really do recommend catching these movies in the theater, when possible), but I found no listings for the movie here in Austin, so I busted out my BluRay copy.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Watch: Elvira - Mistress of the Dark (1988)

I'm a firm believer that the 1988 film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is both underrated and was ahead of its time.  Fortunately, in the ensuing 20-something years, the movie found its audience on VHS, cable and DVD.

While certainly there were female-centric comedies in the 1980's (see: the career of Goldie Hawn), Elvira's persona was considered something more to gawk at during her first wave of popularity when seen through the filter of media like The Tonight Show than it was seen for its own merits or as something folks were bothering to pay attention to.  Sure, she had genuine fans out there, and the oddly specific nature of Elvira translated surprisingly well to beer ads, etc...

Franken-Watch: Frankenstein (1931) with the Univ. of Texas Wind Ensemble

I don't think it's a secret that Frankenstein (1931) is one of my favorite movies.  For the past 15 years or so, I've watched the movie about annually, and definitely for the last decade that's been true.

For a long time, The University of Texas music department has found Halloween-related activities to put on, and for years one of the faculty would play the organ along with the Chaney-starring Phantom of the Opera, but I never managed to see it.  About a month ago, I figured out that this year, Frankenstein was showing at the Bass Concert Hall, the big theater where travelling Broadway shows often set up camp in Austin.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Halloween Watch: Revenge of The Creature (1955)

Firstly, yes, this movie absolutely features a very young Clint Eastwood as a scientist in a walk-on part.  My jaw was on the floor.

Secondly, there is no Julie Adams in this movie.  Lori Nelson is fine, but... yeah.

Thirdly, apparently you can see this movie as an episode of MST3K, so you know what I'm doing with my Thanksgiving break.

I literally have no idea why (a) it seems like Universal really struggled with making a good Creature of the Black Lagoon movie after the first movie, and (b) why someone hasn't remade a Creature movie in recent years when, frankly, the formula shouldn't be complicated.  He's a super strong lake-monster with claws and a penchant for destruction.  Get on it, Universal.

I promised myself I'd watch the two remaining Universal Creature sequels this Halloween season as I'd owned them for about 10 years and never watched them, always totally happy to watch the first film.  The first sequel screening went a little poorly.  For me.  But I'd watched the movies out of order, jumping from the stellar first to the third film which killed the franchise.

Tuesday evening I took in Revenge of the Creature (1955), a sequel released just a year after the 1954 original.

The logic of the set-up isn't that crazy.  We had survivors in the prior film, and the stories they told spawned interest in the Gill Man.  Thus, someone finances a hunting expedition of sorts to the Black Lagoon to capture or kill the creature and bring him back to civilization.  It was the middle of the 20th Century.  We could shoot or kill or displace whatever we wanted to for science.

Whereas the first film took place on the creature's home turf, we've duped ol' Gill Man into our trap and within 20 minutes we're somewhere in Florida in this movie, placing Gil in a tank at a proto-Sea World.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween Watch: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

As An American Werewolf in London (1981) concludes, the screen goes dark, and then the following appears on screen:
Lycanthrope films limited wishes to extend its heartfelt congratulations to Lady Diana Spencer and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on the occasion of their marriage - July 29th 1981
It's one of the oddest moments in an incredibly odd horror film, one that was part of the 1980's deconstruction of media tropes as the generation of film and media students got jobs in the world and Marshall McLuhan's ideas trickled into the zeitgeist.

The internet suggests that the tag regarding the marriage of Prince Charles is there as a sort of pre-emptive apology to Charles for hurling a homophobic slur at him in the course of a scene where our lead character is trying to get arrested, but it's also part of the undercurrent of the alien nature of an American in England, werewolf or not, that's part of the movie.  With England's somewhat stricter censorship rules of the time, perhaps that bit might have required an edit for a UK release.  I don't know.  But it's just one more bit of an American trying to behave himself in England and making a mess of it, as something that can't possibly be taken as anything less than an eye-rolling apology to propriety.  Frankly, I don't know how any American would meet such a congratulatory message with anything but a groan or chuckle at the end of a brutal werewolf rampage and Creedence blasting from the Dolby sound system.

You know, this is the same filmmaker who brought us Animal House just a few years before.

We didn't necessarily need to meet any particular criteria for what a horror movie was, anymore, Landis was saying.  We can be genuinely funny.  We can be snarky and a but subversive.  And we can be absurd.  But none of that, he seemed to be saying, really makes a good werewolf rampage any less horrific.  Just, you know, bizarre.

Halloween Watch: The Haunting (1963)

I watched The Haunting (1963) for the first time back around 1999.  I recall that the first two Octobers after I graduated from college, free from homework and other school stuff to do at the time (and with a job that really, genuinely ended at 6:00 most days and had a ten minute commute), I was free to binge-watch scary movies.  And, so, Jamie and I kept heading back to Austin's I Luv Video until she told me to knock it off, she was tired of black and white movies.  I'm still nowhere as caught up as I should be.

It was during those first two Octobers that we rented The Haunting, likely because I'd seen it mentioned somewhere in an article on "must see scary movies", but I've forgotten what got me to reach for the tape in the first place.

I recall we watched it during the day, the blinds closed, and, still, we were both utterly petrified by the movie.   Or, at least as petrified as I ever get from a movie.

Monster movies generally aren't really all that scary - just weird and uncanny.  For scary, I like atmosphere and breaching the unknowable, I guess.  It's probably why stuff like The Shining sticks with me, but I see Friday the 13th as a sort of comedy.  Of course it's suspenseful to wait to see who will get stabbed next, but it's an inevitability.  It's just waiting for a shoe to drop like a punchline.  And gore is gorey and hard to look at, but that doesn't make it necessarily scary.  I don't like looking at rotting hamburger meat and I don't want to touch it, but I'm not scared.  I'm repulsed.

I'll take a good "what the hell is going on?" to qualify as scary in my book.  The unexplainable and inexplicable, add in a dash of madness, and I'll qualify something as scary.  And The Haunting has that in spades.