innocent_man: (drama)
Ever After is a retelling of "Cinderella" starring Drew Barrymore, Angelica Huston, Dougray Scott, Megan Dodds and Melanie Lynskey.

We start off with the Brothers Grimm visiting a French noble (queen? hard to say), who tells them that their little story about "the little cinder girl" was true, though they got many of the details wrong. We then go back in time to A Long Time Ago, and see a man with a young daughter. Said man has just wed a Baroness (Huston), and she's brought her two little daughters, but he drops dead of a heart attack the next day, and leaves his new wife in charge of the estate. Turns out she's completely selfish and grasping.

Fast-forward 10 years. Now Danielle (Barrymore) is sleeping in the cinders, cleaning up after Stepmom and her daughters, evil, spoiled Marguerite (Dodds) and cowed Jacqueline (Lynskey). Mom's trying to put Marguerite with the prince of France (Scott, as the whiniest prince ever), but he's in an arranged marriage and hates it. On a day out, trying to escape the duties, he meets Danielle, and steals one of her horses. He pays her for it, and she impersonates a noble to free a member of the household who Stepmom has sold to paid debts. In the process, she meets the Prince again and makes an impression, and they fall in love. Aw.

Problem is, of course, she's a commoner and he's the prince, and Stepmom's evil, so there are issues. But eventually, with a little help from Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey), the Prince gets his head in order, marries Danielle, and Stepmom and Marguerite are forced into labor. Jacqueline, meanwhile, quietly falls in love with a royal groom, and does just fine for herself.

The movie is cute. Huston is pretty fabulous as the wicked stepmom, not just because she's so good at being cruel but because her motivations are so obvious - she's horribly jealous of Danielle, terrified to be thrust into the position of a manor-house owner when her husband dies, and can see no way out but marrying money. Danielle just wants to run the house and be with the family she's always known, and the Prince does a passable job of morphing from Whiny as Hell to Somewhat Less Whiny (though I buy his depiction of NRE and the heady rush it leads to). Da Vinci is a fun mentor, and I like that the Prince doesn't save Danielle from anything so much as get his head screwed on straight and choose to be with her. So it's fun, if not entirely high art.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium. Interested to see if Teagan would like it.

Next up: Evolution
innocent_man: (Default)
EuroTrip is a rather juvenile but funny as hell comedy starring no one I knew except Michelle Trachtenberg (but seriously: Scott Mechlowicz, Jacob Pitts, Travis Wester are the other four principals).

Scotty (Mechlowicz) and his buddies Cooper (Pitts) and the twins Jenny (Trachtenberg) and Jamie (Wester) have just graduated from high school in Hudson, Ohio (not so far from me). Scotty is immediately dumped by his younger girlfriend Fiona (Kristin Kreuk). That's cruel enough, but then at a party, she gets up onstage with the lead of a pop-punk band (played by Matt Damon), who sings the catchiest song ever:

Following this, Scotty goes home and discovers an email from his German pen pal, "Mike," asking for a date. Drunk and not entirely bright and not exactly fluent in German, he writes back to say "fuck off," and passes out.

Turns out that "Mike" is "Mieke," a beautiful girl, and Scotty decides he's falling for her. But she's blocked his email, and since this is before Facebook or anything like that, he gets on a damn plane to go to Berlin to find her. Whew. There. There's the damn plot.

The movie is silly, and it doesn't treat its women especially well (flunks the Bechdel badly, there's a lot of quasi-sexist humor, and a lot of objectification), but it doesn't seem mean-spirited, for what that's worth. The guys get abused, a lot of stupid stuff happens, they meet a lot of colorful characters (Vinne Jones as a football hooligan, which might not be much of a stretch for him), Jamie and Jenny wind up snogging after getting blitzed on absinthe, and Scotty finally meets Mieke in Rome and bangs her in a confessional booth. At the Vatican. FUCK YES.

Ahem. Anyway, there are some laugh-out loud moments, and the script chugs merrily along. The original ending had Mieke rejecting Scotty and being reasonable, which flopped with test audiences, because seriously, at that point we want reason? After the Penis Beach and Lucy Lawless as a BDSM sex club owner and the creepy-ass Italian man on the train? Please. We want them to hook up because it makes as much sense as anything else in the movie, and we want to root for Scotty, because he's not a dick (Cooper is, but he's the one who gets his ass beaten at the club, so it's OK).

"Scotty Doesn't Know" has been in my ALL DAY.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Ever After
innocent_man: (moon)
European Vacation is the second the National Lampoon's Vacation series, and the best of them (at least the one's I've seen; haven't seen Vegas). We'll get to Vacation in a few years, but I've seen it and I don't recall being a fan.

Anyway, Chevy Chase plays Clark Griswold, a clumsy, not-too-bright but generally well-meaning schlub who lucks into a European vacation by winning a game show. He and his wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) and their kids Audrey (Dana Miller) and Rusty (Jason Lively, who it took the better part of the first act to remember was the star of Night of the Creeps) hit England, France, Germany and Rome and leave Europe in ruins along the way.

The comedy is dark-ish; mostly it's the Griswolds wrecking whatever area they happen to be in. Unlike Vacation, which had some teeth (people and animals died, man), this is pretty harmless stuff. Yeah, Eric Idle gets the shit kicked out of him, and yeah, Clark starts a brawl at a German street fest, but no one gets seriously or permanently injured. The main conflict, such as it is, is that Audrey wants to get home to her boyfriend, Rusty's trying to get laid, Clark is burning through Europe on the game show's schedule and the sex tape of his wife has gotten into distribution. Oh, and his wife gets kidnapped and held at gunpoint in a chase through Rome, but it seems almost an afterthought at that point. It's like the screenwriters realized they'd forgotten to include any kind of climax, and so they threw in a car chase at the end. Eh.

There are a couple of good laughs, but they don't come from dialog or character, just Chevy Chase tripping over shit (which is funny, granted). Once serious issue I had was that Audrey is obviously sexual (her boyfriend, by the way, is played by William "Sweep the Leg" Zabka, proving that he was in every movie in the 80s), but the actress looks about 10. This is especially noticeable in the opening scene when they're on the game show and the host (John Astin, being creepy as shit) kisses her. The actress was actually 21 when the movie was released, for what it's worth.

Like I said, it's not bad, but if I want classic Chevy Chase, I'll watch Fletch or Caddyshack.

My grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: EuroTrip
innocent_man: (lsd)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a bit of a mindfucky movie starring Jim Carrey (in, IMO, his best performance to date), Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Mark "the Hulk" Ruffalo and Elijah Wood. Hell of a cast, yeah?

The movie opens with Joel (Carry) waking up, confused, and deciding to knock off work and go to the February. There, he meets Clementine (Winslet), a beautiful but rather eccentric woman. They hit it off, and then have a second date the next day...but things seem a little off. Why is Joel's car damaged? Why does a young man (Wood) stop by Joel's car and ask what he's doing there?

We soon learn that both Clementine and Joel have actually had a year-long relationship that ended badly (she drinks, she's a little crazy, he's too reserved for her). When it did, Clementine went to Lacuna and had Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Wilkinson) erase all of her memories of Joel. Joel, infuriated, has the same procedure done, and it's about then that we figure out that all of this is happening as Joel's memory is being erased.

There are complications - Patrick (Wood) is using what he knows about Joel to seduce Clementine and is her new boyfriend, but the familiarity of it all is fucking with her. Mary (Dunst) is in love with Howard but dating Stan (Ruffalo) another technician, but it turns out she's had her memories of Howard erased. And while the erasure of Clementine from Joel is happening, he decides that, no, he wants to keep his memories and tries to hide his memory-Clementine in his subconscious.

It doesn't work, but before the memory vanishes, she whispers, "Meet me in Montauk." The next day, as Mary quits her job at Lacuna and (apparently) hand-delivers the files of all of Lacuna's clients, Joel wakes up, confused, knocks off work, and heads to Montauk...and we're back where we started.

The movie is brilliant. Script, acting, cinematography, all amazing. It's almost tragic, because Clementine and Joel don't seem to learn - even after they discover that they've had a full relationship, it ended horribly, but they decide to try again. Hopeful, or are they both idiots? It's hard to say. The movie is poetic, bittersweet, and sad, but it's really beautiful. I've been in relationships with people like Clementine, and I don't miss it...but I do know what it's like to love someone enough to do stupid things to stay with them.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: European Vacation
innocent_man: (beast)
The Cabin in the Woods is a horror movie co-written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard and directed by Goddard, and it's kind of a backhanded dig at the whole genre.

The movie is ostensibly about a group of college kids that go to the woods to see Curt's (Chris Hemsworth) cousin's cabin, have sex, get slaughtered. Ah, but not really. The movie actually opens with two technicians (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) preparing for some big operation. Turns out that the kids getting killed is the operation, and it's a larger ritual to sacrifice them to ancient, sleeping gods, lest the whole world be destroyed.

The kids call up some pain-worshipping zombies, but that's only because Dana (Kristen Connolly) reads from the right book. The basement of the cabin is filled with artifacts, each connected to a creature of legend and nightmare. It's fun to imagine how different the movie would have been had they called up Fornicus, the Hell-lord. Or the giant snake. Or the witches. Or the sexy witches.

In the end, Dana and her friend Marty (Fran Kranz) escape into the underground facility and turn loose the monsters on the staff. And given the choice between dying with the world and dying for it, they choose "fuck it," watch as the Director (Sigourney Weaver in an amazing cameo) dies in a fire, and then light up a joint as the Ancient Ones rise. It's kind of a "fuck you" to the audience, and to every horror film - "you were gonna kill us, right?" it seems to say. "Well, no. This time, we kill you."

Cabin is exactly my kind of nerdy, because it's meta, and it gives me lots of little connections to find and tidbits to observe. And through it all, none of the characters are flat or boring. It's exciting, if not scary (but movies don't scare me often anyway). I really looked forward to owning this one.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
innocent_man: (rorshach)
The Avengers, in case you've been under a rock for a while, is the most amazing superhero movie of all time.

Yes. I'm a fan. I know that some joyless people that hate fun managed to find quibbles with this movie, but seriously.

Basically, Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk (now played by Mark Ruffalo rather than Edward Norton, but it works out fine), Black Widow and Thor, plus Hawkeye, team up under the leadership (sort of) of Nick Fury and save the world from Loki, whose big plan is to lead an alien invasion and take over the world...maybe (there's an online theory that what he really wants is to get back to Asgard, so he won, in fact. I find that compelling).

It's a superhero movie, sure, and it's basically what all of the Marvel Cinematic movies to this point have been leading up to. And it does have some issues. Well, really, it has one: Black Widow. There are probably other female Avengers, some with actual superpowers, that could have been used...but see, none of that is the fault of this movie. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) was introduced in Iron Man 2, and leaving her out of the Avengers when she's established as an agent of SHIELD would be silly. Yes, they could have added in Scarlet Witch or someone, but adding in a character like that with no lead-up would have been awkward, because the movie is already so busy. So I think it was the right call. I also point out that, although Widow doesn't get cool, bigass weapons like the boys (much has been made of her using two little pistols), she doesn't get saved, she doesn't get fridged, she doesn't get sexually threatened. The closest we come to that is Loki calling her a "mewling quim," which is unpleasant, but I think she's pretty much in control of that interaction.

The superhero genre is historically not kind to women, and Avengers isn't perfect in that regard, but it's a fuck of a lot better than most other movies that preceded it. But that's seriously my only complaint.

Really. Avengers manages to take eight superpowered or superskilled characters (Cap, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Fury and Loki) and give them all screen time to be awesome, give them all awesome lines, make the movie into a true ensemble piece, stay true to their portrayals in their own movies, and it doesn't fuck with us by trying to pretend that Iron Man dies at the end (I interpret Hulk's "health scream" as "get the fuck up, everyone knows you're not dying"). And, yes, it's sad that Clark Gregg's Coulson died, but he went out like a badass, and everyone fully acknowledges what he was able to do in death.

The movie is as meta as you'd expect from Whedon, is amazingly well-scripted for something that Disney undoubtedly had a heavy hand in, and the effects and fucking amazing. I cannot wait for Iron Man 3 this May.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Cabin in the Woods
innocent_man: (mentak)
Equilibrium an action psuedo-thinker starring Christan Bale, Taye Diggs, and (briefly) Sean Bean.

In the future, after World War III, emotion is forbidden. It's enforced with multiple daily doses of a drug called Prozium, which suppresses the human emotional response. Naturally, a not-inconsiderable segment of the population says "fuck that for a bag of dicks" and goes rogue. It's up to John Preston (Bale) and his fellow Grammaton Clerics to sort them out.

By "sort them out," here, we mean "gun them down using awesome gun-fu skills." The single best part of this movie is the idea of "gun-kata," a series of gun-fighting stances based on mathematical predictions of where the gunfire is coming from, how to avoid it, and how to shoot fuckers. He's also a master of sword-, hand-, and spiked-gun-butt-fighting. Again, action sequences in the movie are awesome.

The plot...well. It's a compelling idea, but the execution is a little clumsy. Like, the opening raid has the clerics killing people who are hoarding art. One of the things they pull out of the floor is the Mona fucking Lisa. It's just kind of heavy-handed, is all. I'm sure there was a painting that art buffs would have recognized but that wasn't quite so, like, ARRRRRT!

Anyway, Bale misses one dose of the drug, and starts feeling. In fairness, he strongly contemplates shooting up again (after he, like, straight-up murders a bunch of other soldiers to save a puppy - hey, it's a really cute puppy!), but can't bring himself to do it. He's enjoying (reveling in, really) feeling too much. He eventually winds up betraying the state of Libria to assassinate the leader, whereupon the rebels (who up to this point have been completely incompetent, and suddenly get badass) take over, blow up the drug factories. Victory!

A couple of plot holes. You only need to miss a dose before it wears off? And why does the emotionless state of Libria fucking burn people who offend? Surely they must know that feeling isn't something you can help, it's the natural human condition. So why execute people at all? Why not put them back on the drug? Or, if you must kill them, why not humanely shoot them in the head rather than burning them alive? It feels religious (and indeed, there is some talk about "faith" being a virtue, which of course it isn't, but never mind that).

Anyway, the movie is watchable and the action scenes are spiffy, and Sean Bean is compelling as Bale's first partner (Diggs is his replacement, 'cause you know Bean doesn't survive long). I just wish that the script were a little tighter.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value:

Next up: Avengers, muthafucka!
innocent_man: (tick)
Enter the Dragon is one of those genre-pioneering movies (at least in the US) that, even if you haven't seen it, by this time much it feels familiar.

Lee (Bruce Lee) is a Shaolin monk recruited by the British military (I guess) to infiltrate a martial arts tournament being held by international drug dealer and all-around bad guy, Han (Kien Shih). He's doing it largely because Han's bodyguard, Oharra (Bob Wall) killed his sister (Angela Mao) some years back. Meanwhile, two other "good" contestants, Mr. Williams (Jim Kelly) and Mr. Roper (John Saxon) are also there for their own reasons, but aren't, like, evil, so that makes them allies.

Well, the fighting is brutal and pretty darned amazing, because holy shit Bruce Lee! The tropes that we've come to love - fighting on a beautiful island, fighting to the death, one little dude beating up a thousand dudes, the big confrontation at the end with opposing armies - it's all here.

Now, one issue - the black dude dies (that'd be Williams). And it wouldn't be as big a deal if John Saxon's agent hadn't gotten the roles reversed (it was originally going to be Roper that died). But hey. The people involved went through enough bullshit getting the movie made with a Chinese star, and then the poor guy died before it premiered. Sucks all around.

The movie is a good view in action movies of the time, because Lee kills a bunch of dudes, and nowadays that doesn't happen, at least not without guns (fun fact: one of the dudes he kills is a young Jackie Chan).

Enter the Dragon is fun, 70s-fabulous and a lot of fun to drink to, because it's over the top and contains just enough "what the fuck" to be entertaining. It's also nicely paced, and the fight scenes, of course, are incredible.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Equilibrium
innocent_man: (abyssal)
Empire Records is a teen comedy about a bunch of kids who work at a record store. At the time of its release (1995), the biggest names in it were probably Anthony Lapaglia and Debbie Mazar. Now, folks recognize Renee Zellweger and Liv Tyler a bit more. But hey.

Lapaglia is a former musician who runs Empire Records, a pretty successful music store on the verge of being bought out by a chain. Joe (Lapaglia) is trying to stop that takeover by making the owner an offer, but his night manager, Lucas (Rory Cochrane) steals the money in a misguided attempt to increase it in Atlantic City.

That's the main plotline, but there several others. Deb (Robin Tunney) is just generally fucked up, shows up for work, immediately shaves her head (which Tunney actually did, which helps the acting in the scene in a creepy kind of way), and has a bandage on her wrist. Cory (Tyler) gets accepted to Harvard, but she's also getting ready to lose her virginity to the visiting celebrity, Rex Manning (Maxwell Caufield), at her friend Gina's (Zellweger) urging. And AJ (Johnny Whitworth) has to tell Cory he loves her. By 1:37 exactly.

Oh, and there's a shoptlifter (Brandon Sexton) who winds up coming back to shoot up the place (don't worry, just blanks), and then getting hired. And Mark (Ethan Embry, but credited as Ethan Randall) comes up with the genius plan to make it all work out.

Really, now that I try and explain it, I'm amazed this movie works as well as it does. There are so many characters and plot points going on, but the cool thing is that no one really feels unfinished (well, Eddie (James 'Kimo' Willis) and Berko (Coyote Shivers), a little, but you still learn enough about them to know them) and the plot points do get resolved. And, somehow, the movie doesn't drag.

Now, we watched an extended edition, which added back in a few scenes (like Cory getting her acceptance letter from Harvard) that I think should have stayed gone, but the most interesting thing it did was make Rex Manning not a complete asshole. In this version, Cory propositions him, and after checking how old she is (which she lies about, by the way; in the extended edition she's revealed to be 17 ARRGH), he unzips his fly and picks up a bottle of salad dressing, saying, "I hope you like the taste of blue cheese." And she storms out, disgusted with him and herself, and he just kind of shakes his head. In the original, he just says "Rock and roll," and there's no hint that he wants anything other than to bang her. I'm not sure how I feel about him being a more relateable character. I think I like the original better, but that may because I've seen it more.

And that's the thing, really. I saw this movie in my 20s, when I had problems like these kids and I worked at a family-owned coffee shop and I had to worry about paying rent but more about where my life was going. I understand the movie, as over the top as it is sometimes, because I knew most of these people or folks very much like them. So I still love this movie, even though as I've gotten older the characters read a lot more broken to me than they did when I was, basically, one of them.

Plus it's just so damned quotable. "What's with today, today?"

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Enter the Dragon
innocent_man: (punkrock)
The Emperor's New Groove is an oddity among Disney cartoons. Nary a princess to be found, a male protagonist who's a bit of a jerk, and a lot of self-referential, very meta humor. Obviously, that wasn't what Disney initially wanted to do.

They initially had envisioned it as a Mesoamerican version of The Prince and the Pauper, but that didn't test well. So what we get instead is a redemption story in which the Emperor Kuzco (David Spade, who I detest, so it's fun watching him get beat up) is turned into a llama by his evil sorceress adviser Yzma (Eartha mutherfuckin' Kitt) in a botch attempted to kill him. She sends her slow-witted scene-stealing henchman Kronk (Patrick Warburton) to finish the job, but he can't bring himself to do it, and the Kuzco-llama is accidentally taken into the hills by Pacha (John Goodman), a peasant whose home Kuzco has recently vowed to destroy to make room for his pool.

Kuzco, of course, winds up learning some basic humanity and eventually gets changed back into himself, and builds his pool near Pacha's village and everyone gets together and goes swimming. But along the way, he gets chased by panthers, tormented by squirrels, fed a crispy pillbug (hot n' crispy!) and generally beat to hell. But it happens to Yzma, too, who is just a little too intent on being evil. Kronk, meanwhile, is probably the best part of the movie. He's happy with everything, loves to cook and to cook for people (that's how you know he's a good guy at heart), and is only trying to kill Kuzco because Yzma's the boss, but he's not really feeling it.

Everyone plays their parts well, even Spade (ick), and everyone is well-cast. The humor is quick and very meta (following the old "red dotted line" while traveling, the characters look down and see the actual line on the ground, stuff like that), but it's still very playful and happy. Meta jokes can get dreary and po-mo and world weary, and I hate that shit, but when you've got Patrick "The Tick" Warburton cheerfully talking with a squirrel ("Squeakit-squeak-squeaker?") and occasional cries of "DEMON LLAMA!", it's hard not to love the movie.

Cael, by the way, was reduced to peals of laughter by Yzma turning into a kitten. Can't really blame him.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Empire Records
innocent_man: (lsd)
Eight-Legged Freaks is a monster movie about giant spiders, starring David Arquette and Kari Wuhrer and a very young Scarlett Johansson.

Basic plot: Spiders eat crickets infused with toxic waste, get stupidly big, eat people. This takes place in Prosperity, AZ, which houses a gold mine owned by the late Mr. McCormick, whose son, Chris (Arquette) has returned to town after leaving abruptly because of an awkward scene with his old flame (Wuhrer). Meanwhile, the mayor of the town (Leon Rippy) is trying to get everyone to sell and piss off, while the local radio jockey and conspiracy theorist (Doug E. Doug) warns everyone of impending alien invasion.

And then the spiders show up and start eating people. The movie escalates from "there are big-ish spiders in the walls" to "HOLY BALLS LOOK AT THAT HUGE THING" in very short order, and there are some scenes that got cut that probably shouldn't have, but eh. That's not the main problem.

The main problem is that the scary scenes are just effective enough for this movie to want to be a horror movie, and the comedic scenes are just funny enough for the movie to want to be a spoof. The movie does two genres half-assed, instead of doing one (or both) well. Of particular groanability: the spiders may Abu-the-monkey noises as the amble down the street. Why? Spiders don't make noises. They don't bite and shake like dogs, even if they bite a moose head.

Lots of minor characters here and there, but they still make use of a guy they don't even name to be a kind of secondary hero in the third act. Lots of people die. I mean, lots. And while horror movies are kind of notorious for killing of swaths of people and having the heroes never really deal with it, I kind of felt it was interesting that the mayor's son (Matt Mzurchry) who's dating the sheriff's (Wuhrer) daughter (Johansson), gets a little too aggressive with the makeouts, gets tazed, pisses himself, apologizes, and then watches all of his friends get eaten by spiders. That's gotta fuck with you.

But really, this is one of those movies that doesn't deserve analysis so much as amusement. It's fun to watch, it's just a kind of terrible movie with one or two clever moments.

My grade: D
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Emperor's New Groove
innocent_man: (centimani)
Edward Scissorhands is a faerie tale directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp (you'll be seeing that sentence again). Depp plays the title role, an Unfleshed Promethean created by a mad but kindly demiurge (Vincent Price) who comes to a small suburban town and is subsequently driven out as the townsfolk succumb to Disquiet.

I'm kidding, of course, but honestly it's amazing how well the movie fits the game's paradigm. Edward is, at first, fascinating to the bored housewives of the pastel hell that is the suburb. He can create hedge animals and avant-garde hairstyle for dog and woman alike. He's polite and softspoken and pale and ageless (no one thinks it odd that 40-year-old women are hot for him, and no one thinks it odd when he starts mooning over a high school student). He's a much-needed breath of life into the community...

...but he's got scissors for hands. Despite numerous mentions of "a doctor friend who could maybe help you," no one follows up on that, and Edward, naive and trusting, gets roped into committing larceny on his guardian's daughter's boyfriend's parents (Diane Wiest, Winona Ryder, Anthony Michael Hall, respectively). About this point the townsfolk turn on him (Disquiet crests level 2 and we pass from fascination and obsession to spite and fear), and Edward, facing a sudden influx of jealousy over Kim (Ryder) and constant fear and suspicion from the other townsfolk, lashes out, which just perpetuates the cycle. The townsfolk don't exactly pursue him with torches and pitchforks, but close enough.

All Promethean references aside, the movie works precisely because it's a fable. It's framed as the story an old woman tells her granddaughter to explain snow (which makes no goddamn sense), and within the movie itself, it starts to fray around the edges when we see things like police and banks and other "outside the neighborhood" things. And I think that's fine; if the movie tried to take itself more seriously, it would fall apart. As it is, it holds up just well enough that we buy that Kim's father (Alan Arkin) is a bowling champion and that the town hot-pants (Kathy Baker) wants to bang every male in the immediate vicinity, but we don't feel the need to ask questions like "where the hell did that ice come from?" and "doe Edward actually need to eat?" and "where did the Inventor's body go?" and so on.

I can't help feel like this is Burton's way to explain Burton. "Look at me, tortured, an outsider, trapped among the sheeple," but if that's the case, it's handled deftly enough by Depp that it doesn't feel wanky. I hadn't watched this movie in a good long while, but I still enjoy it.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Eight-Legged Freaks
innocent_man: (abyssal)
Ed Wood is a 1994 biopic of Edward D. Wood, Jr., one of the worst screenwriters and filmmakers ever. The movie stars Johnny Depp as Wood and is directed by Tim Burton; it's not their first collaboration, but it's one of the best ones.

Wood starts off as a struggling director/filmmaker, working as an errand boy for a studio, and then discovers that a smaller (and trashier) studio has plans to make a movie about Christine Jorgensen. He explains to the director that he should make the movie because he's a transvestite (and therefore knows what it's like to live with an embarrassing secret). His passion, and the fact that he meets and befriends an aging Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau, in easily the best performance of the movie - won him an Oscar), lands him the job. He proceeds to fuck it up, writing an autobiographical screenplay, using completely nonsensical dialog and ignoring all the tedious, nonglamorous but completely essential bits of moviemaking.

This kind of continues throughout the movie; Ed kind of bumbling his way through making Bride of the Monster and finally Plan 9 from Outer Space (we'll get to Ps). Along the way, his girlfriend Dolores (Sarah Jessica Parker, who, in the movie, actually says the line "Do I really have a face like a horse?") leaves him, and he takes up with a nice young lady (Patrica Arquette) he meets in the hospital when Bela is committed for drug abuse.

No matter how much of a fuck-up Wood is, he's presented as so amazingly positive, friendly and cheerful that it's impossible to dislike him. That said, he's completely oblivious to reality, and one wonders how much of Wood lives in Burton (whose movies are often good, but do display a kind of "ah, fuck it" towards the real world that works in some better than others). The biopic is also inaccurate on a number of points, as many are. They ignore that Lugosi was married at the time of his death, that he had a son, and various other little details. All of that said, you really do get a sense of their friendship, and how tragic Lugosi's addiction was. You also get hints of the alcoholism that would eventually ruin Wood, but the movie is just so darned positive that they don't dwell on it, which is probably for the best.

Generally, the movie is a lot of fun (much more so than any of Wood's actual movies, which, MST3K potential aside, are pretty dismal).

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Edward Scissorhands
innocent_man: (goodguys)
Eastern Promises is a David Cronenberg film starring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts about the Russian mafia. It's kind of noir-ish, using a baby and a diary as MacGuffins and Vincent Cassel as a foil.

Watts is a midwife who delivers the baby of a 14-year-old heroin addict, who dies shortly thereafter. She's carrying a diary, but it's in Russian (Watts' character happens to be of Russian extraction, but she can't read it). Her uncle reads a bit, but refuses to translate it. Anna (Watts) finds a business card for a restaurant in the diary, and goes there, meeting Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who, at first, appears kindly and grandfathery. But she gets the creeps off him pretty quickly, and rightly so; he's a mob boss. She also meets his son, Kirill (Cassell) and his "driver", Nikolai (Mortensen).

The rest of the movie advances the plotlines of the intrigues of the mob (Semyon trying to protect his idiot son, who ordered a hit he shouldn't have, by sacrificing Nikolai) and Anna's attempts to learn the truth about the girl and her baby and find her family. It turns out that the baby is Semyon's child (he raped the teen girl), and this bit of knowledge puts Anna's family at risk. Meanwhile, Semyon sets up Nikolai to die in place of Kirill, but does that by allowing him to advance in the "family," which turns out to be awkward when Nikolai survives, 'cause he's a cop.

The movie is nicely paced, for as heavy as it is. The violence is kind of graphic, but the rape is only ever mentioned, rather than shown onscreen (Nikolai is forced to have sex with a prostitute as Kirill, who is self-hating gay, watches, but if it's rape then both Nikolai and the girl are victims), and the tense moments in the movie are played just enough for the tension to be dramatic but not enough to make you want to crawl out of your skin. It's more skillfully done than, say, A History of Violence (which I also enjoyed), and features some really good performances from all the principles. Mortensen was nominated for an Oscar for this role (lost to Daniel Day-Lewis, and deservedly so). Like I said, noir with a Russian twist, so that's cool.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Low-medium. Well-paced, but still heavy

Next up: Ed Wood
innocent_man: (morbo)
Earth Girls Are Easy is a late-80s movie made by, basically, some folks from MTV, including Julie Brown.

Valerie (Geena Davis) is a (manicurist?) in the Valley. Her fiancee, Ted (Charles Rocket...what the hell else has he done? Oh, hell, he committed suicide in 2005. Harsh my mellow, man) is a doctor, but is also losing interest in her as their wedding nears. Valerie tries to rekindle the spark, but only manages to catch him attempting an affair with a nurse, and throws him out.

Meanwhile, a trio of aliens (Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey and one those Wayans guys...Damon) crash in Valerie's pool. She feeds them Pop Tarts, and then with her wacky friend Candy's (Julie Brown) help, they make them look human (turns out they just needed to remove their body hair) and take them out on the town. Hijinks ensue, and finally Valerie leaves Earth with the lead alien, Mac (Goldblum).

The movie is silly and fun. It's a musical, for one thing, and for the most part the songs make sense in context (one, "'Cause I'm a Blond," doesn't, and one suspects it was effectively a deleted scene that they just didn't want to cut). Davis is appropriately ditzy, but likeable. Carrey and Wayans are suitably annoying as Wiploc and Zebo, but they manage to underplay the comedy enough that it stays funny (Goldblum, meanwhile, plays it mostly straight, but still manages to get a laugh occasionally). For my money, Michael McKean as the stoned surfer pool man is probably the funniest character in the movie, but there's actually a lot to like, in a mindless sort of way.

I could get grouchy about the fact that when Mac uses his "love touch" on the officers arresting him and Valerie, they immediately go from burly man to stereotypical queeer (lisp and all), but eh. It's a relatively minor thing, all things considered. Really, I don't have a lot to say about the movie other than: Holy god, the 80s. The 80s.

My Grade: B-
Rewatch value: Medium-high. It doesn't drag, I'll give it that.

Next up: Eastern Promises
innocent_man: (devil)
Dune is an 80s movie based on the novel by Frank Herbert and starring Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Patrick Stewart, Kenneth MacMillan and a lot of other people, some of whom are still famous. But more importantly, it's directed by David Lynch.

So, we played a drinking game, the four of us. Whenever one of us couldn't contain ourselves and said "what the fuck," we all took a drink. Just a sip of wine, nothing major. We killed three bottles of wine, and finished the night pretty drunk.

I've never read the novel, and that may be part of the issue. But honestly, I don't think so. I've never read Lord of the Rings, either, but I thought those movies were a hell of a lot more skillfully done. For one thing, we didn't have voiceovers where characters whispered their thoughts. Might as well have added "he said" after everything, for as smoothly as this transition went.

OK, so in brief: Paul Atreides (MacLachlan) is the son of the Duke of House Atreides (Jurgen Prochnow). His mother is a concubine (Annis) who chose to have a son rather than a daughter because reasons. She has magical voice powers that let her command people by speaking all death-metally. Also there is this spice that allows a gigantic abortion-creature to "fold space" and make space travel possible, but you have to mine it on Arakkus, a planet populated by giant killer worms attracted to the sound of mining. And there's this other royal house ruled by a fat man in a flying suit (MacMillan), and he's utterly sadistic and disease ridden, and his followers (including Sting, looking utterly creepy) have a plug in their heart that he can just pull out and let their blood leak out all over him, cause that's not creepy.

HOLY SHIT. See why we were drunk? I feel like opening a bottle right now.

Anyway, the story itself is pretty typical hero's journey, but it's just so long and overwrought, and if you haven't read the book you're just bogged down in these details that probably mean something ("You must milk this cat every day?" Was that a necessary scene?). I think there's a lot of geek nostalgia around this movie, but honestly I don't know why we own it.

Right, so, movie. It ends with Luke Neo Aragor Perseus Spider-Man Scott Pilgrim Paul (sorry), now known as Muadeeb or perhaps Usul, leading his army, armed with magical voice-boomers that blow up the ground next to enemies and send them flying, and also riding the giant worms, and destroying the bad guys and telling the Emperor where to stick it. All is well! THE END.

My grade: D+. The "+" because it's quotable.
Rewatch value: Low. I'd watch it again if I could play the drinking game with new people.

Next up: Earth Girls are Easy
innocent_man: (ptc)
Drumline is a comedy-ish movie about a young man from Harlem (Nick Cannon) recruited to play snare drum in the fictional Atlanta A&T University's marching band. Of course, there's an upcoming competition against a bigger, flashier band, of course, the dude has an attitude but huge talent, of course there's a girl, of course there's a rival.

The movie is the definition of "by the numbers." It's entertaining, and I do give props to the way that it shows Devin's (Cannon) growth over the movie. He starts out arrogant, cocky and can't-be-arsed, and when people try to give him free rides because of his talent, it's objectively the wrong thing to do in the context of the story. Over the course of the movie he romances a girl from a rich family (pre-Avatar Zoe Saldana), makes his peace with the band director (Orlando Jones, in one of his two movie roles - we'll get to "E" eventually), and makes friends with his rival, Sean (Leonard Roberts).

The movie has some good depictions of the harsh training that marching bands go through, but I was never in marching band, so my empathy is limited. Likewise, I enjoy watching these shows (my parents were big fans of the Phantom Regiment, which is drum & bugle corps and I'm sure there's some important difference but I don't really know it - I just know lots of people marching on a football field playing music looks cool), but it really loses something to watch it on screen.

Also, the greenscreen special effects have not aged well. The shots of fans of the two schools next to each other in separate bleachers is really obviously stitched together, and it's kind of laughable.

All in all, not bad, but nothing I'm in a hurry to see again.

My grade: B-
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Dune
innocent_man: (drama)
Drop Dead Gorgeous is a black comedy starring Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, Kirstie Alley, Allison Janney, Amy Adams and the late Brittany Murphy. Dunst, Richards, Adams, Murphy and others are the pretty teenage girls of Mount Rose, Minnesota and are competing to be Miss Teen America. Amber Atkins (Dunst) just kind of wants to get out of town and be a reporter; the pageant is a possible stepping stone to that, but really she just wants to do her trailer-trash, chain-smoking mom (Ellen Barkin) and her mom's best friend (Janney) proud with her tap routine. Alley is Gladys Leeman, a former pageant winner, and her daughter (Richards) is the current front-runner for the title...and they're willing to kill to keep it that way.

The movie is shot as a documentary, and it stays true to its concept; we don't see footage that the cream doesn't actually shoot (unlike District 9). The crew exposes the truth of the town (everyone is horrible, the Leemans own the place and have utterly rigged the competition, which makes the people they murder and maim all the more tragic).

The pageant ends as everyone knows it will - despite Becky Leeman's (Richards) horrible performance of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" while polka-dancing with a giant stuffed Jesus (seriously, why would I make that up?) as compared to Amber's show-stopping tap routine (in a borrowed outfit complete with top hat, for a kind of Marlene Dietrich sort of look), Becky wins the pageant. Amber accepts this as stoically as she can, but is then crowed anyway when Becky dies in a freak accident, and her mother confesses to the murder of an earlier contestant. Although the national pageant is cancelled (the cosmetics company sponsoring it was shut down by the IRS), Amber winds up finding her dream as a reporter anyway, as she grabs a microphone when a reporter is shot when Gladys escapes prison and shoots up the town. Whew.

Black comedy is hard. It's easy just to be horrible and let that be "funny." Very Bad Things does that, for instance, and it's just too much. This movie is full of horrible people, but the people who are good aren't saintly, they're just decent and honest, which is nice. That'd be Amber, Loretta (Janney), Amber's mother, Lisa (Amy Adams, as the ditzy, hyper-sexual cheerleader) and the other girls.

The movie is funny because it takes itself just seriously enough for the stakes to matter in context, but also never lets you forget that people are killing each other over a rigged, small-town beauty pageant. It kind of makes me squirm that everyone smokes, but eh, 90s movie (and it's actually a plot point in some places). The most cringe-worthy bit is actually not Becky's Jesus-dance, but last year's winner (Alexandra Holden) being pushed around in a wheelchair (she's so anorexic she can barely breathe) lip-synching to "Don't Cry Out Loud."

If I have a complaint, it's that we don't see enough of what makes Becky tick. We get the sense that she's just as horrible as her mother (she murders a boy who hits on Amber, after all), but she also is a vehicle for her mother's failed ambition, and we only see the barest hints of friction there. It's there, just a little more of her being the real Becky (rather than the saccharine version she displays) would have been cool.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: Medium-high.

Next up: Drumline
innocent_man: (bunk)
Drop Dead Fred is a movie I only own because Domino's Pizza did a promotion, like, a decade ago where you got a terrible movie with their terrible pizza. I've never touched it until now. I wish I had ordered Papa John's instead.

Anyway, the movie is about Lizzie (Phoebe Cates, the girl from Gremlins), an emotionally abused woman on the verge of divorce to her cheating husband (Tim Matheson in a mullet) and bullied by her terrible mother (Marsha Mason). After losing her car, her job and what shreds of her dignity remain all in one day (she loses her job as a court reporter, by the way, because her car is stolen and she's too stupid to call someone collect at the courthouse and report this, oh and I'm pretty sure if you're a court reporter a judge can't just fire you on the spot, because I'm sure you belong to a union STUPID MOVIE), she moves back in with her mother (at mom's insistence) and discovers the box in which her childhood imaginary friend, the titular Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall, aka Lord Flashheart from Blackadder) was imprisoned.

Whew. It only get stupider.

Fred proceeds to wreck her life. But see, before we go any further, here's why this movie is terrible. Fred is, supposedly, an imaginary friend. But he does things in the real world. He tracks dog shit on a rug. He breaks things, he moves Lizzie's body. He writes her a note, which her mother is also able to read, which cements that he is a real, physical presence. He sinks a woman's house boat (Carrie Fisher - the woman, not the boat), and then said woman flips out and attacks a chair where Lizzie tells her Fred is sitting.

The movie improves incrementally if you view Fred as a World of Darkness-esque spirit of chaos, but that doesn't help the other issues. Issues like, Lizzie's childhood buddy (Ron Eldard) who falls in love with Lizzie after she acts crazy (and not, like, quirky-crazy, schizophrenic). Her father walks out on them when Lizzie is a little girl, in protest of her terrible mother sealing Fred up in a box, but we never see him again. Her shrink tells her to take these pills, which "deactivate" the part of the brain that deals with "imaginary friend syndrome."

ARRRRRGH. The script is so amazingly bad, lazy and insulting that it's a wonder anyone, especially Fisher (who should know better) signed on. Mayall, who is capable of being funny, just yells and acts horrible throughout. There is not one redeeming person in the movie, and nothing about it is fun to watch.

So glad it's off the list. Now I can look forward to never seeing it again.

My Grade: F
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Drop Dead Gorgeous
innocent_man: (l&o&b)
Dragnet is an 80s comedy starring a very young Dan Ackroyd and Tom Hanks as the next generation of cops, if you will, in LA. Kind of a loving parody of the TV series of the same name (which I've never seen).

Ackroyd, nephew of the original Joe Friday, is an LA cop so straight-laced it hurts to watch him talk. Hanks is Pep Streebeck, his new partner, rolling in fresh from undercover work. THEY FIGHT CRIME.

The crime they fight is absurd; a kind of pseudo-terrorist group called People Against Goodness And Normalcy (PAGAN) perpetrate a reign of terror on the city, stealing cars and so on. Led by the good Reverend Whirley (Christopher Plummer, simpering, which you don't get to see often) and with the help of smut king Caeser (Dabney Coleman, because 80s movies were required by law to have him in), they're...doing some convoluted plan to discredit and then kill the mayor and replace him with the police commissioner and sacrifice a virgin...fuck, I dunno. It doesn't make a lot of sense on the face of it, but the absurdity works and is funny.

Lots of the standard buddy cop tropes; corrupt officials, stupid boss, mismatched partners. It's Ackroyd that really becomes the romantic lead when they rescue the aforementioned virgin (Alexandra Paul) and she starts dating Joe. (Hanks, FWIW, is already banging a fellow officer, so he gets to look on in amusement as two completely inexperienced people fumble their way through a relationship.)

As I've said many times before, these are good people, and that makes me like them. If this movie were done again now, I'm sure that there would be a lot of emphasis on how much Streebeck and Friday hate each other, and it would overshadow everything. As it is, there's friction but they still work together and even grudgingly like each other. That's fun to watch. Also they wrestle a snake.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: High-medium

Next up: Drop Dead Fred


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