Friday, June 30, 2017

If not Tupac, then NWA ... and also Tupac

I have made two "attempts" to see All Eyez on Me, the new biopic of Tupac Shakur.

I put "attempts" in quotation marks because neither really left the intention stage. About ten days ago I considered it for my second viewing after my critics screening of Transformers: The Last Knight, despite having initially lined up Rough Night for that spot (as discussed here). I was a little scared by its 2+ hour running time after the 2+ hours of Transformers, but the real thing that put the kibosh on it was getting a flat tire that day, meaning I couldn't ride my bike to the theater in time for the screening after Transformers ended. (But was in walking distance of the local arthouse theater, so saw Wilson instead.)

Then this past Wednesday, I considered an outing to my favorite old-school theater, the art deco Sun Theatre in Yarraville, and that would have been on the docket. But I was just too tired.

However, I "made up for it," of sorts, by finally seeing Straight Outta Compton on Thursday night.

It's probably a dangerous false equivalency to equate movies about Tupac Shakur and movies about NWA, as I am probably misunderstanding the finer details of the world of gangsta rap. Perhaps watching the Biggie biopic Notorious would be a more accurate equivalency, though then that would really be taking sides in the battle of East Coast vs. West Coast.

Then again, is it such a false equivalency? Both Tupac and NWA were represented by Suge Knight, and Tupac actually appears (very briefly) as a character in Straight Outta Compton (hence the subject of this post). So, I'm going with the legitimate equivalency.

Straight Outta Compton was a movie with a daunting running time of its own, clocking in at 146 minutes, which was one of the reasons I didn't watch it two years ago when it first came out. My wife had already seen it, as well, so it made the perfect movie for when she was out for drinks on Thursday night. Early start, plus I needn't save it for her.

Well, it was probably a good trade as I have not heard good things about All Eyez (38 Metascore) and I ended up really liking Straight Outta Compton. Just short of loving it, actually.

Had the second half been as strong as the first half, "love" might have been a legitimate word. But when are they ever? And I got all the detracting talking points about this movie, that the second half follows a familiar template for the "band breaking up" movie, and also that there are a lot of problematic attitudes toward women in this movie. (The problematic aspects embedded into the song lyrics were probably inescapable; the topless women being passed around like objects might have been avoided.)

But the movie really felt real to me in a lot of ways, and not just because Ice Cube's son is a dead ringer for him. I really enjoyed the performance of Jason Mitchell as Eazy E, and some of the moments of police corruption really boiled my blood.

One thing that surprised me about it, or reminded me of something I had forgotten, was that Ice Cube was really once a gangster of sorts. There's a scene of him destroying the office of a record executive trying to screw him out of money that flies in the face of the family friendly cinematic superstar we have today. Ice Cube has softened over the years; I won't call it selling out, though some would. Since I'm favorably disposed toward the guy, I'll just say he's mellowed. But yeah, he was once a borderline criminal.

It's refreshing to see some truly subversive geniuses who shaped a truly groundbreaking movement get a well made biopic like this one. F. Gary Gray is the director they deserve -- humorously enough, making a movie that references his own breakthrough film, Friday, both textually and subtextually. (O'Shea Jackson Jr. actually says "Bye Felicia" in this movie.)

I also loved seeing some others turn up in guest appearances, namely Keith Stanfield (of Get Out) as Snoop Dogg. Nice impersonation, Keith.

So I guess my eyez, all of them, will eventually see the Tupac biopic on video.

And maybe I'll watch Notorious, which I still haven't seen, as a double feature.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Audient Anime: Castle in the Sky

This is the third in a bi-monthly 2017 series devoted to catching up with the greats of anime I haven't seen, preferably with one or both of my sons.

As mentioned above, I've been working my hardest to make Audient Anime an experience I can share with at least my older son, preferably both of them. Much if not most of Studio Ghibli's fare is appropriate for them, even if the younger one is only three.

But despite their overwhelmingly positive response to My Neighbor Totoro, neither of the two I've chosen next have been a cinch to get them on board.

As you may recall from my last post, Kiki's Delivery Service would have been a complete failure had not my older son noted I was watching it by myself in the evening of the afternoon where I'd tried to show it to them. Because it fed into my own interests, I allowed him to convince me to stay up and watch it with me.

Castle in the Sky was actually a bit of an easier sell, as it turns out, but there was still a bit of arm-twisting necessary to overcome their initial reluctance. In fact, I think the older one was sold on the back cover of the BluRay, after initially being turned off by its front cover. The younger one was happy enough to go along with it, but he didn't last the whole movie -- at first he was off playing a bit, and then he fell asleep watching it. However, drawing the distinction between the two should tell you that the second one did watch the whole thing -- all two hours of it.

Castle in the Sky was the first film in the series that I had not hand-picked for us to watch. I was actually interested in a different Castle, one of the Howl's Moving variety. But when I encountered Sky at the library a couple weeks before the start of June, the proscribed month for the third bi-monthly installment of this series, I made the mental switch easily enough.

And once again Miyazaki helped in overcoming the kids' potential doubts right from the get-go. (Actually, he didn't really do that with Kiki's Delivery Service -- but that's more of a them thing than a him thing.) Castle in the Sky opens with pirates in flying machines with dragonfly wings, attacking an air ship that's carrying a girl who's in possession of a necklace they want. She climbs out among the clouds, on a thin outer railing. Nothing bad could actually happen, right? Well, it doesn't ... but you wouldn't know that from the girl losing her grip and plummeting toward the ground from several miles up in the air. (Don't worry, the amulet around her neck helps her float to the ground unharmed.)

The action set piece opening brought my older son right in, and really, kept him the whole way. He never really flagged, which I found especially impressive given the film's mammoth (and wholly unexpected) 125-minute running time. In fact, if I had known it would run longer that two hours, I might have never exposed them to it in the first place, considering it too unlikely of a proposition. Glad I did, since my son didn't actually complain. It was I who started squirming in my seat by about the 100-minute mark, when I could tell it still had a decent chunk of time left to go. In fact, a bit of a miscalculation on the running time, which started to wear me down a bit, was the only thing that kept Castle in the Sky from being in the same rarefied air, star ratings-wise, as its two five-star predecessors in this series. Still a wondrous adventure with tons of heart, Castle clocked in at four stars for me on Letterboxd.

One problem with the film, if you want to call it that, is that it has a sort of emotional climax around the 70-minute mark, in one of my favorite sequences. It's a "problem" because you shouldn't hit your emotional high point 50 minutes from the end of the movie. As luck would have it, Castle in the Sky made a good companion to The Iron Giant, which the kids had only recently watched and fallen in love with for the first time. In fact, I almost wonder if Brad Bird wasn't influenced in some way by Miyazaki, as his title character in the film that came 13 years later looks a lot like this:

This robot is one of the artifacts from Laputa, the castle of the title, which comes to life unexpectedly when in range of Sheeta's amulet. It doesn't learn to talk, and certainly not in the voice of Vin Diesel, but the robot does engage in some rather giant-like sacrifices in the interest of protecting its humans, coming under heavy artillery fire. The effect on me was pretty profound.

As I've been watching these with my kids, it's interested me what impact seeing it dubbed, rather than subtitled, would have on my own viewing. I guess we're 3-for-3 in me not caring about this nearly as much as I thought I would. One character in this movie does have a voice that unmistakably belongs to someone I know, namely, Cloris Leachman as the lead pirate, Dola. I suppose this was a "distraction" from time to time, since her voice is so distinctive, but she does a good job with the material so that mitigated some of the ways it took me out of it. One thing I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't seen the opening credits was that the future Dawson Leery, none other than James Van Der Beek, voices the lead male character, Pazu. Of course, that's in the 1998 version, not the 1989 version that first appeared in the U.S.

I'm calling this series Audient Anime, but I might as well have been calling it Audient Miyazaki for how single-mindedly I've focused on just one director so far. In August I think I'll change that, while also using the opportunity to transition to material that's slightly more adult oriented. Can't twist my kids' arms forever, now can I? However, I'll be sure to circle back around for one final Miyazaki movie for before this is all said and done.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Asian Audient: Sansho the Bailiff

This is the halfway point of my 2017 series watching a movie per month from Asia, and my third trip to Japan.

You'd say that 1954 was a good year for Japanese cinema, except that would tend to overstate the role of Sansho the Bailiff in making it so.

Yes, I was not a huge fan of Kenji Mizoguchi's film, which reached the lofty heights of #59 in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll.

The other Japanese cinematic giant from 1954 was, of course, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, a beloved favorite of mine that I rewatched earlier this year -- not as part of this series per se, but the night after another Kurosawa film I did watch for this series, High and Low. Samurai did beat Sansho by 42 slots in the poll, but it should have beaten it by a lot more.

As I've had a very busy blogging schedule in the nine days since I watched this movie, creating possibly my longest interim ever between watching one of these movies and writing about it, I may be a bit fuzzy on the reasons I didn't love, or even particularly like, Sansho. That will start with finding a good entry point to discussing it.

But here's as good a place as any. Sansho the Bailiff, strangely, is named after its villain, and not even a particularly charismatic villain at that. In fact, because his name was rarely spoken at the same time that he was actually on screen, I spent a considerable amount of time wondering which one Sansho actually was. I knew he was a bad guy who tortured and mistreated the people he kept to work as slaves on his estate in the film's feudal Japan setting, but I could never be sure that the guy who turned out to be him was actually Sansho, and not some low-level functionary carrying out Sansho's cruel bidding. That's a problem in itself, when the movie is named after the villain and you're not even sure which one the villain is. But even with a very charismatic villain, I still would find it weird for the movie to be named after him. Like, Star Wars would probably never have taken off if it had been called Darth Vader.

I'm sure Mizoguchi was not thinking about a franchise with action figures when he made Sansho. But I'm not entirely sure what he was thinking. This is a distressing, misanthropic film, in which even the eventual hero, Zushio (Yoshiaki Hanayagi), uses a hot iron poker to brand a poor elderly man who attempts to escape, and feels no compunction about it until much, much later. See, Zushio and his sister, Anju (Kyoko Kagawa), were overcome by bandits when they were fleeing the city where their father, a politician, was facing an uprising, endangering their lives. They were separated from their mother, who was sold by these bandits into prostitution, while they were sold to Sansho. The branding is his attempt to fit in and comply with Sansho's agenda, in order to prosper in this glorified prison camp. Nothing gets any happier from here, or at any point in this movie.

I didn't know how I was supposed to feel about this movie. The characters never connected with me, even though tragic things happen to them and Anju at least is very sympathetic. (So is their mother, but we see less of her.) The tragedies that befall these characters are perverse enough that I felt like Mizoguchi was just trying to punish us. I'm not averse to films with tragic outcomes, and I really don't think that even requires clarification. But the tragedy has to speak to a higher purpose and reveal what I consider to be profound truths about the human condition, and for me, Sansho did not.

Part of the strangeness of this film comes down to what they do with the character of Zushio. We understand that he has sold his soul in order to avoid more grave threats to his person -- that he has made the kind of adaptation people make in order not to get raped repeatedly in prison, for example. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my heroes to have a little more moral fiber than that. His sister is the one with the moral fiber, and she only belatedly convinces him to seek to improve their circumstances by attempting to escape and plead their cause to the ruler of a local prefecture, who may be able to improve their condition. Indeed he does do this, and when his powerful parentage is revealed to this local leader, the leader puts Zushio into a position of power where he has direct influence over Sansho and his abusive regime. Zushio doesn't feel like he's earned this, and the gestures the film has him make toward profound self-examination feel empty. As he has no trouble escaping, Zushio doesn't risk anything, not really. And his sister, the morally pure of the two, comes to far worse ends.

At least part of Mizoguchi's purpose in making this film seems to be illustrate the colossal unfairness of life. The better person you are, the worse it is for you. I get it, but I don't see why this film constitutes a particularly useful examination of that idea. Particularly since the fate of the film's two primary female characters is basically unspeakably horrible. Gender politics were quite different both at the time it was made and particularly during the period it was depicting, but there almost seems something sadistic in Mizoguchi's approach to these women.

Some of my problems with the story would be mitigated by interesting technique, had their been some, but I don't recall finding anything memorable in Mizoguchi's methods. It looks reasonably lush for its time, I suppose, but there was nothing in particular I felt inclined to point to afterward. With this film being as praised as it is, it seems there should be something either technically groundbreaking or transcendent in the story or themes. I found neither.

And yet even though I've spent the lion's share of this post telling you how I did not particularly like this movie -- singling out nary a thing I found distinctive about it -- I still gave Sansho the Bailiff three stars on Letterboxd.


Because I'm a pussy.

I suppose that's not a great word to use in a piece where I'm criticizing someone else's portrayal of gender politics. But I need a strong, weighted word to rake myself over the coals for my lack of conviction in my own perspective. When the merits of a classic film elude me, I've got a bad tendency to assume it must be a "me problem." So many other people can't be wrong, can they? So in deference to its classic status, I often find I can give a film no worse than three stars. And so three stars is what Sansho received.

What will July's movie receive? Remains to be seen. Also remains to be seen where we go. Been having a very hard time getting my hands on movies that were not made in either Japan or greater China, but am going to really try for Thailand or Indonesia in July. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Embracing the hard T

Yes, you counted correctly -- this is my fourth post about Wonder Woman in the month of June.

But at least this one is about Wonder Woman and not Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot's name throws smart people for a loop. For the purposes of this argument, I credit myself as being one of those people.

We have a default way we imagine saying the name, which owes much to our understanding of French and the work of Samuel Beckett. But Gal Gadot is not French and she may never have read Waiting for Godot.

The first time I heard the correct pronunciation of her name, it was by my editor and co-podcaster, when he mentioned her in passing on our Alien: Covenant podcast. I just thought he was simple, poor guy.

The second time I heard the correct pronunciation of her name, it was by another podcaster, this one a bit more famous: Stephen Metcalf, one of three hosts of The Slate Culture Gabfest, whose podcast I saw recorded live here in Melbourne. I thought "Oh, what a shame, Stephen Metcalf has embarrassed himself in front of the world by saying her name wrong."

The third time I heard the correct pronunciation of her name, it was the same speaker as the first time, this time during our Wonder Woman podcast. This time, I called him on it. "Are you sure you're saying that right?" I said, a smart allecky condescension dripping from my voice.

"Yes, I am. I googled it," he responded. "It was a YouTube video which just had her name spoken over and over again for about 50 seconds, by different reporters and herself."

Pretty definitive proof.

Yes indeed, you say the T. It rhymes with "vote," though how much it rhymes depends on exactly how much you are trying to approximate an Israeli accent.

Part of the reason we gravitated toward "Gadot," rhymes with "snow," was because the only other alternative our dumb American (or possibly dumb Australian) brains could imagine was to say it as "Gadot," rhymes with "hot." But because our dumb American brains are trying as hard as possible not to sound like dumb American brains, we recoil at anything that makes us sound uncouth, and "Guh-DOTT" definitely would do that. "Guh-DOH" saved us from that problem.

But, it's wrong.

The thing is, Gal Gadot is going to have to become a lot more of a household name before anyone will really believe it's wrong, in any widespread way. Our ingrained European snobbery will still make us want to say it with the French silent T, if only because it sounds right, and we want to avoid having to explain ourselves in sophisticated company, who won't yet have been confronted with its correct pronunciation and will assume we're saying it wrong. Either that or we will need to double down on the kind of wanky over-pronunciation of the Israeli accent, like people who try too hard to correctly say Spanish names and geographical locations, which, while wanky, will also make it clear we're not just saying it wrong because we're yokels.

At least puckering up your lips and saying it in the Israeli way, which sounds a bit like the sound a drop of water makes when it drips from the tap, will sound fancy.

Maybe we can just call her Gal, like Cher.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Be careful what you ask for

I recently told my fellow podcaster and the editor of my site that he was going to lose his love of cinema if he only reviewed the most bloated summer (winter) blockbusters and nothing else.

Because those ones tend to make themselves available via critics screenings more often than the little independent films, he's been going to most of those, while leaving me to sweep up all the smarter, better fare, when I have to schedule the screening myself. Something I certainly don't mind doing, especially since it's free to me in both cases.

But I also don't want this guy to totally burn out on movies he's ranking 3 and 4 out of 10, so the other night, after we recorded our Wonder Woman podcast, I advised him to let me attend the next in-your-face spectacle while he took a much-deserved trip to the arthouse.

My timing couldn't have been worse. The next in-your-face spectacle was Transformers: The Last Knight.

He told me it would be, but I didn't necessarily think that actually meant I would be the one to review it. But a few days later he texted me asking me if I could go to that screening. He did say in the text that he couldn't make it, but given that we'd just had this conversation, I wonder how true that was.

Well, to soften the blow, it would mean my first IMAX movie since Rogue One, and my first non-Star Wars IMAX since Mad Max: Fury Road. See, I don't get IMAX for free through my critics card, so why pay a $5 to $10 markup on a film I can otherwise see for absolutely free? As a result, that format has basically become a stranger to me.

In a bit of an unusual movie, this critics screening was being held at the IMAX theater affixed to our museum, which proclaims itself to be the third-largest such screen in the world. There was a limosine colored like Bumblebee out the front and everything.

If I'm going to see Transformers bludgeoning each hour for well over two hours, at least they can be big.

But the movie was even worse than I imagined it would be, even worse than I remembered the third movie -- the last one I'd deigned to watch -- being. I considered momentarily watching the fourth one, in order to better prepare myself to review this one. But my God, that movie is two hours and 45 minutes long. No thanks.

I won't go on any further tearing this movie down in the body of this post, because you can read my full smackdown here.

Just know that IMAX did not make it better, just as the lame attempts at humor did not make it funny, and the bizarre choice to involve the Middle Ages did not even make it WTF enough to be good trash.

Next time I try to help save the cinematic soul of a fellow critic, remind me not to.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Planes for one kid, Cars for the other

A lot of my contemporaries might proudly talk about how their child's first movie in the theater was a Pixar movie.

I can only sort of do that, and it's not like these movies were Inside Out or Up or Toy Story 3.

Nope, our kids' first "Pixar" movies were a no-Pixar spinoff of what is popularly considered to be Pixar's worst franchise ... and the third movie in that franchise.

However, we couldn't have planned it with any more thematic symmetry if we tried.

In 2013, when he was just a month past his third birthday, we took my older son to the Sun Theatre in Yarraville, where we saw the Cars spinoff Planes. It's clearly from the world of Cars, but it's Pixar adjacent at best, emanating from the dubiously named DinseyToon Studios. You may recall it being discussed in this post. (Or not -- that was four years ago. And if you do recall it, what are you, stalking me?)

On Saturday, about five-and-a-half months after his third birthday, we took my younger son to see Cars 3 as part of an admit four advanced screening at the Village Cinemas in the Jam Factory in South Yarra. (Both towns even have a "Yarra" in them.) His attention span is not great, but the tickets were free, making it a lot more of an inviting prospect. I'm reviewing the movie, you see.

Another common factor: My wife played the role of running interference on both occasions.

The first time, when she had to chase the older one around the theater and out into the lobby for a total of maybe 15 minutes, she graciously deferred to my nearly fanatical need not to miss a significant chunk of the movies I see. (Something having to do with how much of a movie I can miss before it "counts" for my lists.) This time, I had firmer ground on which to stand. We wouldn't have been there at all if I weren't reviewing the movie, and it's my duty to my reading public not to render judgment unless I've seen every last minute. She probably missed about the same amount of time this time around.

As it turns out, both movies were tedious enough that I wouldn't have minded chasing around the kids.

Although I have a soft spot for the Cars movies -- I kind of love the first one and I appreciate the second -- I found this one a real grind. It's out of the spy game and back to the race track, with mostly boring results. I mean, do we really need another Pixar character who is fearing his own obsolescence?

But the big misstep this movie makes is to sideline Mater entirely. Yeah, Cars 2 was too much about Mater, but he was the Jar Jar Binks in Attack of the Clones of this movie -- in it for continuity reasons, but without much dialogue. I never could have guessed how much I'd miss him. But now I'm repeating my review, which should probably be available on a link to the side of the as you read this, or will be soon enough.

The kids really liked the movie, and not only, I think, because of the free popcorn (which would only appeal to the older one) and the free mini Cars toy they got at the gate. Them liking the movie is a lot more important to me than me liking it, since I'm trying to convince the younger one that going to the movies is good, and the older one that going to movies that he considers too babyish is good. (The older one, who whined about having to come at all, later on asked us if we could watch Cars 3 on Netflix. Yeah, that's not how it works, kid. But thanks for the vote of confidence and for providing a perfect example of your own short-sightedness.) I'll worry later about the fact that he thought the villain, Jackson Storm, was the best character.

But I couldn't blame them if just seeing it up on a big screen was impressive enough to win them over. Predictably, it does look great. Funnily enough, considering that this is a series I appreciate, this was my first Cars movie in the theater. I had to have little enough faith in the first two -- the second even after liking the first -- to have waited to watch them on video, and in the case of Cars 2, more than two years after it came out. When I finally get around to seeing one on the big screen, it's the worst one. (Some of you will like it better than Cars 2, or possibly even Cars. Good on you.)

If I'm taking the long view, and the snobbish view, neither kid will have a great answer when someone one day asks them their first movie in the theater. I mean, it can never compare to my own answer: Star Wars.

But who even knows what you would consider the 2017 version of that answer. It could be a Star Wars movie, of course. But in 20 years when they're answering that question, there'll be 15 more Star Wars movies and it won't seem all that special.

Planes and Cars 3 may not be special, and they may only be lesser Pixar and Pixar adjacent ... but they're not bad movies. At least they're good adjacent, and that's good enough for me.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Reacquainting myself with The Iron Giant

My kids' favorite movie these days is The Iron Giant.

What a marvelous turn of events.

I say that as though I had no role in it, which of course I did. Remembering the success we had with Tarzan (read about that here), I decided to try a "garage movie" with my kids this past Monday, which was a holiday. My wife had some work to do so I was left with the task of distracting them and keeping them out of her hair. I mean, I took them out until the mid-afternoon, but you can't stay out with the kids all day. What do you expect from me, exactly?

They enjoyed the movie, which I'd rented from the library, and I felt a satisfaction akin to "we got through that without any major disruptions to the movie or to my wife." I didn't have any idea it would linger in their consciousness beyond that day.

But boy has it.

My youngest, who is nearly three-and-a-half, has seen the movie approximately four times in the week since then. His six-year-old brother is only one viewing behind him. And in a telltale sign of how much they like it, beyond having watched it multiple times, they can often be heard zooming around the house as the Iron Giant himself after a viewing.

But what's been the most fun for me is how funny they think it is. For all my kids have enjoyed various movies in the past, even watching them on repeat, rarely have they ever isolated lines they thought were funny, and proceeded to quote them unprompted.

They quote two parts of the movie in particular, and they both involve Dean.

Dean. Hot damn. What a great character.

And to think there was a time in my history when I actively disliked Harry Connick Jr.

Here's Dean:

But wait, that's the second part they like. Let's do the first one first.

The first one is when we meet Dean, the beatnik -- probably the only beatnik in this small Maine town -- in the diner. It's a great character introduction, as Hogarth discovers him unresponsive behind his newspaper -- because he's sleeping. We aren't told why Dean is sleeping in the middle of the afternoon at a diner, what aspect of his beatnik lifestyle left him in this shape. I prefer just to wonder.

Anyway, the first thing we learn about Dean is that he's a co-conspirator. He takes an immediate shine to Hogarth, and perhaps because he'd never narc anyone out, he doesn't let on in a way that might get Hogarth in trouble with his mother (Jennifer Aniston), a waitress at the diner.

Let on about what? 

Oh, about the squirrel running up his pant leg. Hogarth's squirrel. Hogarth's squirrel his mother just expressly forebade him from bringing into the diner. 

When the squirrel digs its little claws into his leg to make the ascent, Hogart's mom is already at the table, so he can't give away the game. Instead he gets this crazed look on his face ... exactly the look you'd get if you were trying to conceal that a squirrel was clambering up toward your groin.

"Call me Dean," he says, through clenched teeth, eyes twitching. They quote that line regularly.

The second part is perhaps the indisputable comedic peak of the movie, when the monkey see, monkey do giant follows Hogarth's lead by doing a cannonball into the lake. Dean is sitting as pictured above, reading the paper in a director's chair, chewing on a toothpick.

Now, the water displacement of a giant metal robot doing a cannonball into a lake -- after a running start, mind you -- is massive. A tidal wave ensues. We don't immediately see what happens to Hogarth, though that's also a great punchline -- he's clinging to the top of a pine tree, cheering. We do see Dean observing the approaching wall of water with stunned horror, and then, not able to think of anything better to do, he hides behind the newspaper. Not for protection, really, but just so he doesn't have to see himself get hit in the face with a tidal wave.

When the water rushes through, and we see various forms of Maine forest life swimming through it, we also see Dean swirl around, still sitting in his chair, as though they were a single fused object. He lands softly in upright position out on a neighboring road. 

When the water clears, an old codger in a pickup truck drives upside the dazed hipster and sticks his head out the window. 

"Hey!" he says.

"Yeah?" says Dean from behind his crooked glasses, not turning.

"You're in the middle of the road!" says the codger.

"YEAH?" says Dean. I mean, what else do you say?

That exchange is great, and I can get them giggling every time I reenact it. Of course, then they want to reenact it themselves, and reproduce it spontaneously at a moment of their choosing.

I should say there's one other thing they quote that doesn't involve Dean. It's the line Hogarth says to the giant after he's first made his acquaintance, once he realizes the giant intends to follow him home like a lost puppy. 

"You stay. I go. No following!"

What I like about that is that moment is repeated back with the roles reversed in the film's emotional climax, which I won't reveal until after this SPOILER ALERT if you somehow still have not seen this movie.

When the nuke is headed toward the town and there's no reasonable hope for any of the people present to escape, the giant makes the decision to sacrifice himself by flying up into the stratosphere and intercepting it out of harm's way. And this line is his way of saying goodbye to his young friend.


Yeah, The Iron Giant turned me into jelly again at its climax, even ten years since I last saw it, and for probably the fifth time overall. My older son asked one of those simple questions that shows a true engagement with the material, that he's finally starting to process adult themes, and understanding the meaning of grand concepts like nobility and sacrifice. 

"Why is he going to fly after the missile, Daddy?"

"Because he wants to save the people," I choked out, somehow preventing my voice from succumbing to all-out blubbering. 

The reason it's great that my kids love The Iron Giant is not just because it's funny, or just because it's cool (they love it when the giant turns into a gun), or not just because they are again showing genuine appreciation of a film from another century. (What was it with 1999? That's when Tarzan came out too.)

No, it's because I know part of why this movie has resonated with them is because it has a wonderful message that they might not even know they wanted. But it's experiences like this that can give birth to a lifelong love of cinema.

Sometimes I don't like it when my kids start to regularly watch a movie I hold sacred. I don't mind catching snippets of lesser classics every time I walk through the living room, but there are some that should be special, whose shine might wear out with repeated exposure. For this very reason I've been very careful about dolling out access to recent favorites like Zootopia, Inside Out and Tangled.

But it's been a joy to walk through various parts of The Iron Giant, ranked above any of those movies on my Flickchart at #26. Instead of wearing out, it tickles me anew every time I walk by, and if I'm not careful, I might even feel myself getting emotional.

And every time that cannonball scene is on, I make sure to stop and watch. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My first 100 reviews, and then some

Not of all time, mind you. I'm close to 1,400 if you include all the reviews I've ever written for one publication or another.

But this "milestone post" celebrates my one hundredth review for ReelGood, the Australian website that has engaged me as a freelancer since December of 2014.

My Cousin Rachel ignominiously claims the honor, or "honour" if I want to be Australian about it. "Ignominiously" not because the movie is bad, but because I've already forgotten about it five days after seeing it. (Not true, but I thought it was rather average -- meaning I still awarded it a 7/10. See other posts for my ongoing struggle with my personal ratings system.)

On the occasion of this milestone, instead of giving you a ponderous think piece about what it means to be a critic in our current world or what criticism means to me, I thought I'd do a "service" to potential future readers. (Hello, potential future readers! How has the future been treating you?)

That "service" will be to create a repository for all of these 100 reviews ... though unless you read this post within the next few days, there will be more than 100 in the list.

That's right, I'm going to create links to all of my ReelGood reviews, and add a new link every time a new one posts.

The purpose of this -- since I'm sure you're asking yourself that right now -- is to create a single location to point people who have asked to see some of what I've written. They can then choose from the whole list, in order to read a review that's germane to their own experience. I mean, if you want to see if I have valid film opinions and can argue them successfully, wouldn't you rather read a review of a film you've already seen, on which you already have your own perspective? With this post, you'll now have a chance to choose between all of them.

The way I used to handle this when it came up, which was maybe every other year, was to send them a flat list of all the reviews I'd written for AllMovie, the site that employed me from 2000 to 2011. By the end of my run there, it was more than 1,200 movies long. They'd then have to go to that site and search the title, if my disproportionate response to their innocent query didn't already shut them off to the whole idea of reading my reviews in the first place.

Now, technology is my friend and I can do this in a much easier way. Though to be honest, it's been more than a couple years since anyone's actually asked me this.

Never mind that it's now possible to search my reviews on ReelGood by clicking the hyperlink that appears on my name, something that wasn't possible until the site was redesigned about a year ago. So yeah, I'm about to commit to a fairly arduous undertaking that will also be essentially redundant.

But, I can't speak to how future redesigns may handle this functionality, so might as well.

Oh, and don't worry. I'll still keep updating my most recent three on the right side of this page. (I know you were worried.)

Reconsidering this list has allowed me to notice some funny things, like the fact that I reviewed The Assassin and Creed consecutively, and that five movies before that, I reviewed Justin Kurzel's Macbeth. A year after this, Justin Kurzel would direct Assassin's Creed ... which I did not review, nor see.

Okay. Probably don't need to bore you with any more preamble, although whether you'll continue "reading" at all after this is up to you. "Glancing" might be the better word.

Here we go, in chronological order:

1. Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
2. Foxcatcher (2014, Bennett Miller)
3. The Interview (2014, Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen)
4. St. Vincent (2014, Theodore Melfi)
5. The Wedding Ringer (2015, Jeremy Garelick)
6. Love is Strange (2014, Ira Sachs)
7. The Gambler (2014, Rupert Wyatt)
8. The Last Five Years (2015, Richard LaGravenese)
9. Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015, Mark Burton & Richard Starzak)
10. The Age of Adaline (2015, Lee Toland Krieger)
11. Clouds of Sils Maria (2015, Olivier Assayas)
12. While We're Young (2015, Noah Baumbach)
13. Gemma Bovery (2015, Anne Fontaine)
14. Woman in Gold (2015, Simon Curtis)
15. Spy (2015, Paul Feig)
16. Inside Out (2015, Pete Docter)
17. The Emperor's New Clothes (2015, Michael Winterbottom)
18. Freedom Stories (2015, Steve Thomas)
19. Love & Mercy (2015, Bill Pohlad)
20. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)
21. The Gift (2015, Joel Edgerton)
22. Irrational Man (2015, Woody Allen)
23. Everest (2015, Baltasar Kormakur)
24. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015, Marielle Heller)
25. Tangerine (2015, Sean Baker)
26. Sicario (2015, Denis Villeneuve)
27. Pan (2015, Joe Wright)
28. Macbeth (2015, Justin Kurzel)
29. The Walk (2015, Robert Zemeckis)
30. Mistress America (2015, Noah Baumbach)
31. Sleeping With Other People (2015, Leslye Headland)
32. Knight of Cups (2015, Terrence Malick)
33. The Assassin (2015, Hsiao-Hsien Hou)
34. Creed (2015, Ryan Coogler)
35. 99 Homes (2015, Ramin Bahrani)
36. Hotel Tansylvania 2 (2015, Genndy Tartakovsky)
37. The Night Before (2015, Jonathan Levine)
38. Truth (2015, James Vanderbilt)
39. Room (2015, Lenny Abrahamson)
40. Mississipi Grind (2015, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck)
41. The Good Dinosaur (2015, Peter Sohn)
42. Suffragette (2015, Sarah Gavron)
43. Carol (2015, Todd Haynes)
44. The Big Short (2015, Adam McKay)
45. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016, Michael Bay)
46. How to be Single (2016, Christian Ditter)
47. Zootopia (2016, Byron Howard & Rich Moore)
48. Rams (2016, Grimur Hakonarson)
49. Midnight Special (2016, Jeff Nichols)
50. Eddie the Eagle (2016, Dexter Fletcher)
51. Green Room (2016, Jeremy Saulnier)
52. The Meddler (2016, Lorene Scafaria)
53. Money Monster (2016, Jodie Foster)
54. Hello, My Name is Doris (2016, Michael Showalter)
55. Miles Ahead (2016, Don Cheadle)
56. The BFG (2016, Steven Spielberg)
57. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016, Jake Szymanski)
58. Swiss Army Man (2016, Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert)
59. Star Trek Beyond (2016, Justin Lin)
60. The Salesman (2016, Asghar Farhadi)
61. Certain Women (2016, Kelly Reichardt)
62. Toni Erdmann (2016, Maren Ade)
63. The Lure (2016, Agnieszka Smoczynska)
64. Christine (2016, Antonio Campos)
65. Seoul Station (2016, Sang-ho Yeon)
66. Paterson (2016, Jim Jarmusch)
67. The Shallows (2016, Jaume Collet-Serra)
68. Don't Breathe (2016, Fede Alvarez)
69. Snowden (2016, Oliver Stone)
70. Pete's Dragon (2016, David Lowery)
71. Yoga Hosers (2016, Kevin Smith)
72. The Red Turtle (2016, Michael Dudok de Wit)
73. Deepwater Horizon (2016, Peter Berg)
74. Cafe Society (2016, Woody Allen)
75. Under the Shadow (2016, Babak Anvari)
76. Hell or High Water (2016, David Mackenzie)
77. American Honey (2016, Andrea Arnold)
78. Arrival (2016, Denis Villeneuve)
79. Morgan (2016, Luke Scott)
80. The Family Fang (2016, Jason Bateman)
81. Office Christmas Party (2016, Josh Gordon & Will Speck)
82. Little Men (2016, Ira Sachs)
83. Bad Santa 2 (2016, Mark Waters)
84. Hidden Figures (2016, Theodore Melfi)
85. Manchester by the Sea (2016, Kenneth Lonergan)
86. Lion (2016, Garth Davis)
87. The Birth of a Nation (2016, Nate Parker)
88. Fences (2016, Denzel Washington)
89. Loving (2016, Jeff Nichols)
90. A Cure for Wellness (2017, Gore Verbinski)
91. Life (2017, Daniel Espinosa)
92. The Lego Batman Movie (2017, Chris McKay)
93. The Fate of the Furious (2017, F. Gary Gray)
94. Raw (2016, Julia Ducournau)
95. Colossal (2017, Nacho Vigalondo)
96. Free Fire (2016, Ben Wheatley)
97. John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017, Chad Stahelski)
98. 20th Century Women (2016, Mike Mills)
99. Hounds of Love (2017, Ben Young)
100. My Cousin Rachel (2017, Roger Michell)
101. Cars 3 (2017, Brian Fee)
102. Transformers: The Last Knight (2017, Michael Bay)
103. Una (2017, Benedict Andrews)
104. Lady Macbeth (2017, William Oldroyd)
105. A Monster Calls (2016, J.A. Bayona)
106. American Made (2017, Doug Liman)
107. The Lovers (2017, Azazel Jacobs)
108. Girls Trip (2017, Malcolm D. Lee)
109. The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017, Charlie Bean)
110. Song to Song (2017, Terrence Malick)
111. Battle of the Sexes (2017, Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)
112. Ingrid Goes West (2017, Matt Spicer)
113. Geostorm (2017, Dean Devlin)
114. Brigsby Bear (2017, Dave McCary)
115. Loving Vincent (2017, Dorota Kobiela & Thomas Welchman)
116. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017, Yorgos Lanthimos)
117. Jigsaw (2017, Peter & Michael Spierig)
118. Lucky (2017, John Carroll Lynch)
119. In This Corner of the World (2016, Sunao Katabuchi)
120. Only the Brave (2017, Joseph Kosinski)
121. Wonder Wheel (2017, Woody Allen)
122. The Florida Project (2017, Sean Baker)
123. Call Me by Your Name (2017, Luca Guadagnino)
124. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017, Jake Kasdan)
125. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017, Martin McDonagh)
126. Coco (2017, Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina)
127. The Shape of Water (2017, Guillermo del Toro)
128. Sweet Country (2017, Warwick Thornton)
129. Winchester (2018, Peter & Michael Spierig)
130. Annihilation (2018, Alex Garland)
131. Peter Rabbit (2018, Will Gluck)
132. Mary Magdalene (2018, Garth Davis)
133. Unsane (2018, Steven Soderbergh)
134. Super Troopers 2 (2018, Jay Chandrasekhar)
135. Tully (2018, Jason Reitman)
136. Chappaquiddick (2018, John Curran)
137. Deadpool 2 (2018, David Leitch)
138. The Bookshop (2017, Isabel Coixet)
139. Gringo (2018, Nash Edgerton)
140. Hereditary (2018, Ari Aster)
141. Ocean's Eight (2018, Gary Ross)
142. The Incredibles 2 (2018, Brad Bird)
143. Disobedience (2017, Sebastian Lelio)
144. Two is a Family (2016, Hugo Gelin)
145. Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018, Stefano Sollima)
146. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018, Peyton Reed)
147. Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation (2018, Genndy Tartakovsky)
148. The Gospel According to Andre (2018, Kate Novack)
149. BlacKkKlansman (2018, Spike Lee)
150. RBG (2018, Betsy West & Julie Cohen)
151. Mandy (2018, Panos Cosmatos)
152. Wildlife (2018, Paul Dano)
153. Climax (2018, Gaspar Noe)
154. Shoplifters (2018, Hirokazu Kore-eda)
155. Cold War (2018, Pawel Pawlikowski)
156. Everybody Knows (2018, Asghar Farhadi)
157. The Happytime Murders (2018, Brian Henson)
158. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018, Desiree Akhavan)
159. Three Identical Strangers (2018, Tim Wardle)
160. Hearts Beat Loud (2018, Brett Haley)
161. A Simple Favor (2018, Paul Feig)
162. The House With the Clock in its Walls (2018, Eli Roth)
163. Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (2018, Gus Van Sant)
164. Custody (2018, Xavier Legrand)
165. Bad Times at the El Royale (2018, Drew Goddard)
166. A Star is Born (2018, Bradley Cooper)
167. The Old Man & the Gun (2018, David Lowery)
168. Suspiria (2018, Luca Guadagnino)
169. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018, Bryan Singer)
170. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018, Lasse Halstrom & Joe Johnston)
171. Creed II (2018, Steven Caple Jr.)
172. The Children Act (2017, Richard Eyre)
173. Sorry to Bother You (2018, Boots Riley)
174. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman)
175. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018, Marielle Heller)
176. Eighth Grade (2018, Bo Burnham)
177. Vice (2018, Adam McKay)
178. Holmes & Watson (2018, Etan Cohen)
179. The Favourite (2018, Yorgos Lanthimos)
180. Mary Poppins Returns (2018, Rob Marshall)
181. Green Book (2018, Peter Farrelly)
182. Capharnaum (2018, Nadine Labaki)
183. Escape Room (2019, Adam Robitel)
184. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018, Barry Jenkins)
185. What Men Want (2019, Adam Shankman)
186. The House That Jack Built (2018, Lars von Trier)
187. Paddleton (2019, Alex Lehmann)
188. Hotel Mumbai (2019, Anthony Maras)
189. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019, Mike Mitchell)
190. Fighting With My Family (2019, Stephen Merchant)
191. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018, Terry Gilliam)
192. Mid90s (2018, Jonah Hill)
193. Avengers: Endgame (2019, Joe & Anthony Russo)
194. Long Shot (2019, Jonathan Levine)
195. Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019, Rob Letterman)
196. All is True (2019, Kenneth Branagh)
197. Brightburn (2019, David Yarovesky)
198. High Life (2018, Claire Denis)
199. Tolkien (2019, Dome Karukoski)
200. Toy Story 4 (2019, Josh Cooley)
201. Men in Black: International (2019, F. Gary Gray)
202. Child's Play (2019, Lars Klevberg)
203. Parasite (2019, Bong Joon-ho)
204. Never Look Away (2018, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
205. Mystify: Michael Hutchence (2019, Richard Lowenstein)
206. Hail Satan? (2019, Penny Lane)
207. Booksmart (2019, Olivia Wilde)
208. Crawl (2019, Alexandre Aja)
209. The Australian Dream (2019, Daniel Gordon)
210. Ophelia (2018, Claire McCarthy)
211. Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019, Paul Downs Colaizzo)
212. The Day Shall Come (2019, Chris Morris)
213. Extra Ordinary (2019, Enda Loughman & Mike Ahern)
214. The Lodge (2019, Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala)
215. Downton Abbey (2019, Michael Engler)
216. Abominable (2019, Jill Culton)
217. The Dead Don't Die (2019, Jim Jarmusch)
218. Birds of Passage (2018, Ciro Guerra & Cristina Gallego)
219. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019, Joachim Ronner)
220. Hustlers (2019, Lorene Scafaria)
221. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019, Vince Gilligan)
222. The Laundromat (2019, Steven Soderbergh)
223. Doctor Sleep (2019, Mike Flanagan)
224. Last Christmas (2019, Paul Feig)
225. Terminator: Dark Fate (2019, Tim Miller)
226. Knives Out (2019, Rian Johnson)
227. Ford v. Ferrari (2019, James Mangold)
228. The Good Liar (2019, Bill Condon)
229. Jojo Rabbit (2019, Taika Waititi)
230. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019, Celine Sciamma)
231. Jumanji: The Next Level (2019, Jake Kasdan)
232. Little Women (2019, Greta Gerwig)
233. Dolittle (2020, Stephen Gaghan)
234. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019, Marielle Heller)
235. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020, Cathy Yan)
236. Color Out of Space (2020, Richard Stanley)
237. Emma (2020, Autumn de Wilde)

If you've kept reading, congratulations! You get some stats, which will be written in June of 2017 and never updated.

In my first three calendar years writing for ReelGood, I reviewed my #1 movie each year: Birdman, Inside Out and Toni Erdmann, though since Birdman was my very first review for the site, I didn't feel comfortable giving it a full 10/10. So I opted for the 9/10 ... and in two-and-a-half years of hindsight, that's probably the appropriate rating for it anyway. (Is a person more likely to make a movie his #1 if he has written about it rapturously? Discuss.)

I have not reviewed three films by any one director among these first hundred, but I've reviewed two each by the following: Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent and Hidden Figures), Denis Villeneuve (Sicario and Arrival), Ira Sachs (Love is Strange and Little Men), Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special and Loving), Noah Baumbach (While We're Young and Mistress America) and Woody Allen (Irrational Man and Cafe Society). Come on guys (because you're all guys), leave some reviews for somebody else!

I have given 10/10 four times (Inside Out, Creed, Toni Erdmann and The Red Turtle) but 1/10 only once (Yoga Hosers). I've never given 0/10, though my editor did give Jupiter Ascending a poop emoticon as its rating, so I know less than 1/10 is possible.

Alright, you're free to go.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A distaff Very Bad Things

Remember when I used to write posts that consisted of my uninformed take on a new release, timed to its release date?

Haven't done a lot of those lately, but here's one.

In one of the more unlikely "female version of" movies to come along in a while, Rough Night is a distaff Very Bad Things.

You know, "Very Bad Things" as in that Peter Berg movie from 1998 starring Christian Slater and Daniel Stern, where a bachelor party leads to the accidental death of a stripper, and severely escalating repercussions from there. A pretty mean-spirited movie that I liked quite a bit, but I'd say I was definitely in the minority.

And you know, "distaff" as in "a stick or spindle on to which wool or flax is wound for spinning."

Sorry, make that "distaff" as in "of or concerning women."

"Distaff" is a pretty old-fashioned word, one we used to see in Shakespeare and the like. But it's still favored for occasional use by smart people like me, who happen to be looking for a synonym for "female."

I imagine this comedy will only take the basic premise from Very Bad Things, as many of the other things that happen in that 19-year-old film are a bit too black even for today's black comedy standards. Berg's film does indeed walk that fine line between edgy and "oh no you didn't," to mostly good effect. Don't see it happening in 2017 with a cast of pretty likable ladies.

A bit surprised, actually, that Scarlett Johansson is one of those ladies. Because she has made so many good choices lately, we tend to forget that Scarlett gotta eat too. And paying Scarlett's bills occasionally entails choices that won't leave critics aflutter. I hope she either elevates the material, or at least that it does not bring her down to its level.

Among the rest of the cast, you've got one more straight woman (Zoe Kravitz) and three camera hogs (Kate McKinnon, Ilana Glazer and Jillian Bell). If this is Bridesmaids -- and it seems like it pretty much is -- then all three of them are Melissa McCarthy. That seems unlikely to work.

And of those three, I'm pretty down on two of them. McKinnon has actually won me over a bit after appearing in the last big "female version of" movie, Ghostbusters, alongside Bridesmaids alums Kristen Wiig and the aforementioned McCarthy, but she still has a bit farther to go before I'm willing to say I look forward to her contributions to a movie. I'm kind of repulsed by the comedy of Glazer, for some reason, after seeing her and really not enjoying her character in The Night Before. That's also where I met Bell, who played Seth Rogen's wife. I am probably most interested in what she might bring to the table. (And yeah, I guess female comedy is a sadly small and incestuous club, as all of these women are either one or zero degrees removed from each other in the Kevin Bacon game.)

Then again, speaking of McCarthy, there was a time when I didn't like her either. Since then, I've loved her in The Heat, Spy and The Boss, not to mention that wicked impersonation of Sean Spicer. So none of these women is beyond reclaiming.

And I might actually see this movie. I'm currently scouting candidates for the second film I'll see Tuesday night after going to a critics screening of (God help me) the new Transformers. As we're in a bit of a lull for the release of new independent films, it's either this or The Mummy. And I don't know if I can handle two bloated and overlong action movies in one night.

Whether Rough Night makes that a really rough night, or gives me a necessary palette cleanser after 140 minutes of smashing and grinding metal, remains to be seen.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Wondering where to find my podcasts?

If you thought I just wanted another excuse to get a Wonder Woman poster on the front of my blog ... well, you're only half right. (Because I love the movie, not because I love Gal Gadot.)

I also wanted to put a pun in the subject of the post, and I also wanted to introduce a new gadget, as they call them, on the side of my blog, that gives you more places to check out my work. (So I guess you were only a third right.)

I've been a podcaster for nearly two years now, but so far, I have not spent much time pimping that part of my movie life on this blog.

But that's about to change.

As you will see if you look down to the right, below my "Most Recently Seen," "Most Recently Revisited" and "Most Recently Reviewed" lists, there is now "Most Recently Podcasted," which will contain links to the last three episodes of The ReelGood Podcast. That's the podcast I do with my mates -- to use the Australian term -- John Roebuck and Blake Curtis.

As it so happens, our most recent episode was on Wonder Woman, and it ends a string of discussions of movies I didn't like that all that much. (Spoiler alert, I guess, if you were planning to dig back into the archives.)

As each new one goes up, I will update the list.

Of course, even more preferable than this might be for you to subscribe on iTunes, where you could rate and review us if you felt so inclined. That's supposed to be good for us, or something.

So click, listen, and go see Wonder Woman goddammit.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Super Troopers

I like to use holiday weekends to catch up on beloved favorites.

I don't know why, exactly. But something about not working on a Monday -- this time, to celebrate the birthday of the queen -- makes me want to dig back into the archives, usually from my own collection, to reacquaint myself with movies I love but maybe haven't seen in several years.

It was six years in the case of the movies I watched Saturday and Sunday nights, only one of which I want to talk about at length here. (And more than 20 years for the one I saw on Friday night, Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, which I saw twice in either 1993 or 1994 as part of a film class in college, doing a visual project on a freeze frame from the movie. Did you know the color red appears in every shot in the film?)

The two movies were supposed to make for a double feature on Saturday night, as they are both in the sci-fi genre featuring various degrees of technological speculation (small amounts in the first, large amounts in the second) -- they even both contain scenes of men watching video messages where women break up with them. But Airport ended up being our second half of Saturday's double feature (as discussed here) and the second movie got shifted to Sunday night.

The first movie was Moon, my #1 movie of 2009, which I love dearly but which did not inspire me with any fresh blog-worthy insights on this viewing.

The second one was Starship Troopers, my #4 movie of 1997, and I've got a whole host of subheadings about this movie if you're ready for them. Spoilers ahead, of course.

The effects still look great

One of my most regular talking points about Starship Troopers over the years is that the visual effects still look great, even as the movie is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. However, I hadn't actually seen the movie since New Year's Day of 2011 in order to be able to sure if my words still held water.

I'm glad to say they still do -- for the most part.

I wouldn't include that last qualifier except I think I saw a few moments (perhaps only because I was straining to see them) where the outline of the effects looked barely visible against the humans and real backdrops. Though really, only barely, and even mentioning it countermands my argument in ways I don't think are really fair.

Not only do these bugs still look terrific, but they have actual weight in the physical space, which has been a serious deficiency of our current digital era. There are plenty of examples throughout the movie, but my favorite example is the one when the troopers are trying to prevent the arachnids from getting inside the fallen base as they wait for a transport to evacuate them. They've already breached the perimeter on into the landing that runs the circumference of the wall, where the troopers had just been standing moments before in their desperate attempt to stave off the attack. One of the bugs falls to ground level inside the base in his death throes, and when he does, he scatters a bunch of large, heavy metal cylinders probably used to hold propane or something, like bowling pins. Not only does that profoundly emphasize that creature's presence in the real world, but it shows just how dangerous they are -- you might die just from being hit by something they dislodge when they fall. (Or merely by their body falling, as underscored earlier when an out-of-control winged bug smears Mashall Bell's body across the pavement. Did I tell you I once said hello to Marshall Bell in Los Angeles?)

Anyway, the apparent realism of the bugs was always what made this movie indelible to me, and I'm glad to say they still look good. (Much better than the cheaper version made for Starship Trooper 3: Marauder, which I still haven't seen but whose trailer appears on my Troopers BluRay.)

The gender politics are good

Although much is made of how Troopers is a parody of Nazi propaganda -- and indeed, that's one of the many things this movie is doing -- it's actually anything but fascist in terms of its social, ethnic and gender politics. (For the purposes of this subheading, I'm focusing primarily on the gender politics.)

The two main female characters, Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) and Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), are both strong -- but different types of strong. Many action movies use "can kick your ass" as a metric for whether a female character is strong, and Dizzy does fit that description. But Carmen is mentally strong and incredibly agile, her high marks earning her a trip to cadet school, where she quickly becomes one of the fleet's best pilots. Her recklessness has a kind of precision to it. Not only does she clear the wall of the docking bay by mere meters when taking the starship out (for the very first time!) and not only is this narrow margin totally intentional, but she also later detects a gravitational pull that allows them to avoid being destroyed by an unseen asteroid. Reckless as she may be in a superficial sense, though, she's so committed to protocol that when her starship has been blown in half later on, she doesn't immediately rush for the escape pods -- she sends a mayday signal that the Roger Young is going down. In fact, she even says "I repeat," and begins to give the message again. Her commanding officer has to physically pull her away from the communications device.

And speaking of that, Brenda Strong in that role is only one of several women we see in really senior roles. The new sky marshall -- in other words, one of the most powerful humans alive -- is not only a woman, she's also African. (I'm inferring she's African from her name more than her skin color -- it's Tehat Meru.) The high school teacher who teaches them alien biology is played by golden girl Rue McClanahan, and the Roughnecks corporal who gets her arm burned off by that giant ant-like creature is also a (black) woman. Even when Ibanez goes out flying for the first time, the other trainee pilot is also a woman, played by Amy Smart.

What is so miraculous about these gender politics -- which might logically figure to be retrograde if you considered only that the actors are alums of shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place -- is how unobtrusive they are. No one even makes anything of how women are just as good or as tough as men -- it is just accepted as a given that they are. There may be nothing that underscores this concept more than that men and women shower together during basic training, as if it was nothing. In this strangely utopian future version of our world, the genders truly are equal.

In terms of ethnicity, you do have blacks in prominent roles throughout, though not among the main five or six characters unfortunately. But Seth Gilliam of The Wire and Walking Dead does play the role of hero at the end. And more than black-white politics, I'm interested in the fact that the world has truly become a blend in which ethnicity and country of origin have become a big melange. Some people complained about how the three main characters are from Buenos Aires yet they do not appear to be Latin American, ethnically. They do have Latin surnames, but otherwise they appear to just be white. A cynical person would (possibly correctly) attribute this to the impossibility of casting minorities in the lead of a film with a $105 million budget (and that's $105 million in 1997 dollars). (Not that the people they did cast were exactly household names.) I'd rather embrace the world this film gives us and attribute it to the ethnic diaspora pervading earth at the time, where anybody lives anywhere because there are no longer the strictly drawn prejudices we live with today.

The acting is not actually bad

One of the biggest knocks about this movie is that the actors are not good. When we say that -- and I do NOT include myself in that "we" -- we are basing it on their aforementioned soap opera origins.

But you know what? I defy you to find a truly false note in these performances.

I once thought that false note was the reactions, or lack of reactions, of the three leads to the fact that their home and everyone they know has just been wiped off the face of the map. Indeed, these reactions are, shall we say, muted. But I watched those scenes with special interest this time, and I don't find them to be as devoid of humanity as I once did. When Richards delivers the line about pretending it happened to somebody else, and the fact that she can't stop crying when she does think about it, I saw a legitimate pain behind her eyes, and it's a true method of coping that anyone who lost someone in 9/11 is probably familiar with. Starship Troopers is not about us watching people engulfed by grief, especially not if the intention is to make Carmen and Dizzy seem as strong as the film does. Richards also does a fantastic job acting out having an arachnid talon impaled through her shoulder, while Meyer's death scene is believably wild and panicky.

But what I was really noticing this time was the small choices made by Casper van Dien, who may have more of a reputation of limited range than any of the others. He has a dozen little moments that strike me as inordinately human. Like the way his expression changes, and he looks at his mom for confirmation, when his dad offers him a trip to The Outer Rings ("Zegema Beach!") rather than signing up for military service. Like his smile of realization of his own change of feelings toward Dizzy after she kisses the tank where he's convalescing (for three days!) from his arachnid leg injury. Like the subtle way he takes in the realization that he's going to get some when Richards whispers in his ear that her father isn't home. Even the moment of high humor when he calculates that 20 minutes is enough time to have sex with Dizzy before the fleet takes off. "We can do it," he says to her, then immediately starts shimmying out of his pants.

And all the rest

Like, every moment in all of the "Do you want to know more?" video segments that are interspersed throughout the narrative.

Like, the insanely gruesome violence, which gives as forthright a notion of the true violence of war as any film you are likely to see, and which continues to make me call this one of my all-time favorite war movies.

Like, the basic training sequences, which have a gee-whiz quality while also including some of that insanely gruesome violence.

Like, the fact that you can see Neil Patrick Harris' reflection in the bulbous eyeballs of the "brain bug" when he reads its mind at the end.

Like, the individual great lines of dialogue, such as my favorite ("We can ill afford another Klendathu!"), the most badass ("They don't look like much when you're scraping them off your boot.") and the most gloriously cheesy ("They sucked his brains out.").

This love fest could probably go on and on, but I'll spare you.

I'll just conclude by saying that I love this movie a little more each time I see it, and suggest that if you were one of those who originally thought you hated this movie, I advise you to see it again. It's chock full.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The prequel to Airplane!, the prequel to Elizabeth Hurley

On Saturday night I watched a movie you'd think I would have seen ages ago. After all, when you really love a parody, you have a natural curiosity about the thing that inspired that parody.

The parody I love is Airplane! (called Flying High in Australia -- true story!), and the thing that inspired it is Airport, George Seaton's 1970 disaster movie. It's one of the famous 70s disaster movies with an all-star cast, alongside something like Towering Inferno. I saw Inferno way back in college, but it took until I was a 43-year-old man to finally see one of the granddaddies of the airplane-in-peril genre.

Although more plot elements of the original Airplane! are out of Airport '75 (or is it Airport '77?), there's no doubt that this movie provided the template for the jokes in the Zucker-Abrahams spoof classic. That's especially so because those other two movies were direct sequels to this one. Actually, in a bit of counterintuitive logic, Airplane II: The Sequel actually derives its plot about a crazy bomber directly from the first Airport movie ... with the notable change of the bomb in the suitcase being on a space shuttle instead of an airplane, of course. Sonny Bono memorably plays the bomber in Airplane II, while here the role is essayed by an actor named Van Heflin. But the details of the execution are almost identical, from both actors being twitchy and refusing to stop clutching their briefcases (called an "attache case" in Airport) to the rest of the passengers gathering behind Dean Martin and/or Robert Hays as he tries to talk the bomber down (having the passengers in the parody lean so far in as to actually absent-mindedly fondle Ted Striker while waiting to see what will happen).

I laughed repeatedly during Airport, but not primarily because of the hokey writing and dated pacing (it takes a full hour before the plane in peril even gets off the ground). No, it was laughter inspired by a new appreciation of how spot-on the parody in Airplane! is, including white courtesy vs. red courtesy phones, stands at the airport that sell life insurance policies, the self-serious air traffic controller jargon that makes excessive use of the word "niner," and the domestic entanglements/squabbles of the various professionals brought in to address the crisis.

All that said, I'm not entirely sure I can recommend Airport because of just how slow it is. For the first hour of the movie you'd think that the greatest crisis they have on their hands is a snow storm, and whether one particular flight from Chicago to Rome is going to get off the ground. Nowadays, flight cancellations are as commonplace as airline peanuts -- or perhaps more so, as many airlines have moved away from actual peanuts. (And in Airport, one passenger actually complains about a package of those freebie snacks being stale.)

Perhaps the single most surprising element that originated in this movie is the slapping of hysterical passengers, one of the most memorable scenes in the Zucker-Abrahams parody. There are two different instances of a hysterical passengers being slapped in this movie, though one is certainly played for comedy, as it's a priest doing the slapping. That was really the only moment in the whole movie where they appeared to be winking at us.

There's also a hilariously long amount of time spent on a subplot about a little old lady who flies airlines without buying tickets, as a stowaway. In the days after 9/11, it is simply inconceivable to us that there could have been a time when security was so lax that people without tickets could get on planes. A variation on this character shows up in Airplane! as well. Then again, when it's the guy who actually bought a ticket who tries to blow up this plane with a bomb, maybe little old lady stowaways should be the least of their security concerns.

Now for the other half of the title of this post. There are a lot of big names in this movie, from Martin to Burt Lancaster to George Kennedy to Maureen O'Hara. But there was one I hadn't seen in anything for so long, I had sort of forgotten what she looked like, especially since I'd never seen her in anything when she was this young.

Well, what she looked like was a lot like Elizabeth Hurley.

That's Jacqueline Bisset I'm talking about, and once I saw it, I couldn't un-see it. It doesn't hurt the comparison that she's also British, like the model-turned-actor who was once Hugh Grant's love interest.

I'll let you judge for yourself:

It's not only that I could see Elizabeth Hurley playing her in the remake -- if the remake had been made 20 years ago -- but part of me wondered if Hurley had actually jumped in a time machine and gone back to 1970 to star in the original.

They've both got aging well in common, as Bisset still looks beautiful at age 72, while Hurley might not even need the hypothetical Airport remake to have been made 20 years ago in order to star in it -- she just turned 52 yesterday and is still stunning: