Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday Movie Madness: Buster Keaton in THE CAMERAMAN

"Photography is an art.  You got to have the right film, good exposure, and you gotta scream just before they get the good into their mouth." (The Great Gonzo)

Buster Keaton's The Cameraman is a wonderful picture, filled with sadness and uproarious, silly comedy, and if it isn't the funniest of Keaton's pictures it has one of the best stories in his films.  Ironically Keaton wasn't terribly hot to make the film; he signed a contract with MGM and didn't like the lack of creative freedom (which, meta-irony of things, this film would be about a cameraman named Buster trying to break in as an MGM photog-for-hire).  This would be exacerbated over the years, but for his debut feature under contract, it was for a moment a partnership made just right.  MGM and their writers were able to get what Keaton's whole shtick or just his appeal was, and Keaton was able, after some harranging, to get what he wanted which was some improvisation.

When I say it's not one of the funniest Keaton pictures, it's like saying that 'this Van Gogh isn't one of his most colorful'.  I mean, hell, it's still Van Gogh and it's still Keaton!  It's a character who, many times in his films, we in the audience may think to ourselves "Oh, poor Buster", and without any sarcasm.  This is a guy who just can't catch a break, which is usually the deal with silent movie clowns.  He keeps struggling and inching to get something- a job, a girl, some kind of status, anything- and in this case it's kind of all three.

Murnau could get away with it, but Keaton?
The story has Buster as a cameraman shooting just stupid stills on the street with a camera that is a piece of junk.  But Buster sees his break: other newsreel cameramen, going out on assignment.  On top of this there's the secretary at the MGM office, whom he wants to impress, or just go out on a walk with.  Neither seems as easy as it sounds, as he bumbles his first camera try-out shooting double (no, triple!) exposed film in the developing, and b) another guy buts in during Buster's date and drives her home (actually, Buster is also driven home with them, but in the inconvenient back-seat that gets rained on).

It's mostly a matter of trials and tribulations for Buster, until the big climactic (or pre-climactic?) mini-war with Chinese gangs in the streets.  This is the kind of sequence Buster Keaton was created for, as he's at first just in the midst of the chaos, filming away, but then caught up in the mayhem (a metaphor for his career up to that point, it's more than possible to me, more like an in-joke).  His camera-stand legs get shot off one by one, he's attacked left and right, he dodges, he ducks, he's like a ninja all unto himself amongst more street thugs with knives.  At one point a thug tries to stab Buster, but he misses and Buster clonks him on the head.  Then he just shoots the guy with the camera.  It's a hilarious moment tinged with the daring-do of a guy, and actor, who was fearless on screen.

Checking your pulse... good, dead, and action!
And fearless in letting himself be the butt of jokes on camera at his expense.  I feel so deeply for Buster that I feel embarrassed at times laughing at him, or even with him.  He's a comic foil, but we root for him  every step of the way, particularly with this girl whom he fancies and she fancies a bit too.  There's a scene where the two of them go swimming, and at first it's just silly Keaton-style gags (i.e. a guy at the changing room takes up the same space with Keaton- a very large man- and trying to change in the same spot becomes an epic in awkward, tight, and uncomfortable poses and physical movements, almost like harsh dance or something).  Then in the pool, Buster takes a flop-dive off of the board, and his bathing suit is gone!  It's such a sad, awkward little moment, but thankfully we laugh along the way almost as a way of getting past some of the shock.  And the pay-off, when he finally gets "something" to wear out of the pool, is a classic gag unto itself.

The Cameraman may not have been a movie Keaton wanted to make, at least as much as he did others in his independent period with Joseph Shenck the producer.  But it's got the goods that fans and just newcomers and people looking for a good comedy and some heart to it want: Buster just has a lot of bad luck, that's the main circumstance he has to conquer, and he does it with perseverance and a look like "okay, what next", but not as a question.  He's not as endearing as the 'Tramp', but he doesn't need to be, and shouldn't, as he's more like the comic-clown we might find working at a pub or trying to work on a formula in a lab.  And he never smiles... ever.... Whoa.

Original version of the end scene from Barton Fink
And it's about something, which is how people in creative fields look to just be presentable at least and commendable at best (there's a very funny but touching end moment as Buster is walking along thinking a big celebration in the streets is for him, its meant to give a smile even if you're not laughing).  There may be some silliness in the movie that is not, shall we say, 'high-brow', and was written in probably for the kids; how else to explain an organ-grinder monkey sidekick?  (To be sure, how Keaton comes about obtaining this monkey is maybe the funniest moment in the picture, however, momentarily, cruel)  But even that works, somehow, by the grace of it being stupid slapstick with the tinge of genius.

In big spurts, like a solo-time at Yankee Stadium for the camera at the bat, The Cameraman meets heights of genius that Keaton was capable of as a filmmaker and star, and its story is rich with fun characters and great set-ups and pay-offs, not to mention a genuine love for cinema and its bizarre passageways to creation.  It's a highlight in a career that, sadly afterwards, would be spotty from then on.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Ah, now here's a good blog segment to continue with, as I have done it before (but now with a name): my reposting of reviews from's comments, where I have long written reviews and still do when the moment strikes me.  It used to be, obviously before this blog, for everything, but now I am more picky and sometimes I will just write a review there that's short and where I don't feel the need to be as open as I am here with language and other things of personal natures.  

Though ironically reviews do end up being as long as I can make them over there, or as detailed as possible, despite it being "Comments" on a website like IMDb.  I wish I knew how to quit it, but the fact is it ain't nobody's business but ours... here at a blog everyone can see.  Ah, Brokeback Blogging, my favorite ;)

So, here are my two latest reviews from the IMDb:

HURLYBURLY (2 stars)


Fritz Lang's HUMAN DESIRE (3 1/2 stars)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gareth Edwards' MONSTERS

Monsters.  Title makes one think of all sorts of big gnarly looking things, mostly out of movies and sometimes out of books and fairy tales (or if you're Guillermo del-Toro, everywhere).  Gareth Edwards' independent film, shot on a shoestring that at most was half a million and at smallest was fifteen grand(!), is not about the monsters so much as it's about two people wandering a landscape that is both beautiful and terrifying, lush with life and/or decaying with destruction of the (post?) apocalypse.  Edwards on an interview included with the DVD said that it's meant to be a metaphor for a post-terrorism environment.  This could be read.  It could also be read (somewhat more obviously) as a metaphor for immigration horror, and also the destruction of the planet.

As it is the film works best as one of those gobsmackingly interesting calling cards for someone who one's never heard of before- Edwards was a Visual effects man before embarking on this feature as writer/director/cinematographer/VFX/production designer guy, and he makes it one of those thrilling DIY feature along the lines of Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi.  And besting El Mariachi (if not in super-dirt cheap budget than in bang-for-buck, it's a calling card that shows what you can do if you just have a good enough vision and the ingenuity to make images out of thin air.

His world of a post-alien environment (they've landed, creatures have risen, pretty basic set-up) is one of blown-out buildings and refugees, limited-to-no transportation and guerrillas being taken out quickly by perturbed 'monsters' in the forests.  There is also an "infected zone" but what people get infected with we're not sure.  All one can figure is it ain't pretty.

It should be noted what the movie is before seeing it, as to not get too blown-out-of-proportion expectations. It's basically two people, a photographer working for a media tycoon and the media tycoon's daughter, going across Mexico through the 'infected zone' after their ferry leaves and bonding over a road trip that is somewhere between McCarthy's The Road and Werner Herzog on a decent day.  They take in the sights, get frightened when they need to, and are wary of the slightest sounds that could call for doom.  And the monsters are more of a state of mind (maybe like terrorism?) that are more apparent on TV's, often seen in long shots, where the aliens are big quid like things.  Think if they had gone that extra distance with the Watchmen film and included the giant squid.  It's like, well, a bunch of them, plus 'extra-terrestrial' trees that are alive.

Edwards creates awe with his world, if not totally with his script or characters.  They are decent people, if a little self-centered with their basic drive being 'get home to finance' or 'get home to son'.  Maybe it's not so much the script but the actors; on the same DVD interview Edwards said that leaving the actors be is the best way to direct them.  This might be true for the countless non-professional actors he uses, young and old Mexicans, some possibly even soldiers or shop keepers and certainly kids, but with the two leads played by Scott McNairy and Whitney Able, they're not very effective in the parts.  They're pretty and hipster-ish, and in another life could have fun at hang-outs in New York city on a Saturday night in Soho.  Most frustrating is Edwards attempts, especially in the final reel, to try and draw out a romance between the characters where it's better to see them as friendly and growing closer but not intimate.  It feels forced, as if Edwards has to work in that romance-sub-plot cliche from monster movies.

To be fair this comes mostly at a surprising point in the film when it should turn into a big action climax.  Perhaps Edwards might have gone this route if he had more than his basic thousands to spare, and maybe we'll see that at full-tilt once he makes his Godzilla adaptation (tapped to finally reboot an American take on the franchise).  It is a touching moment though to see what happens when the Monsters appear.  It intrigued me for how different it was, how it was about connecting through the chaos than through violence and destruction.

By this point Edwards has taken his characters through a landscape that is a waste of buildings and disarray, signs everywhere warning for infection ala District 9, and with the militarization of things being something of a fact of life.  And it has meaning and power because of how low-key a lot of this is - that is, a seemingly low-key, independent feeling (one more comparison for indie-buffs, Sin Nombre, another Mexican road-trip with wanderers without a home but searching for one), but ambitious with its intentions.

Again, I don't think Monsters is meant to be mainstream.  If it were Edwards might have gone that route instead of his method of just doing it himself with a small crew.  Those who come to it may not get one of the best films of the year, though hopefully it will challenge those who are expecting something else, be it something smaller (my initial impression was more like The Road, two people all alone in desolation and gray contours), and people can meet it halfway.

 I can gripe about some of the performances and motivations and dialog in the script, and forgive many of the moments that fall flat for the overall scope and vision.  It's a small story of people who don't fit in trying to find a place that does fit, with the ambition to look like a 40 million dollar blockbuster with its seamless fx and (occasional) impressive creatures.  It's the imperfect little-movie-that-could of the year that is not a documentary, at least not in the usual sense (maybe more in the Herzog-ecstatic-truth sense).

Monday, January 31, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#31) DELIVER US FROM EVIL

(And now we come to the end, my only friend, the end, of the Netflix-a-thon.  This doesn't mean I'll stop watching Netflix-instant stuff.  On the contrary I'll still go to it as much as I can for movies and shows and whatnot.  Just not in the same way like "I must watch one tonight or I'll be doomed, DOOMED!"  It was fun while it lasted, and I got to see a wide variety of movies, which was my main goal at the start of this.  And to close it out I'm leaving it to my wife tonight to pick one out for the two of us to watch all snug as a bug in matrimonial rug.)

And, ah, such a romantic film, and what a goddamn double-header following 'Kells':

I don't know or think fully that the Catholic Church is evil.  I know that people have found genuine comfort from the priests and Fathers and Sisters in their lives, who give solace and comfort and words of wisdom in the Faith, which, as with almost all religions, is "The-One-True-Faith, Don't-Listen-To-The-Others."  My father went with it, as did my father-in-law, and grew up relatively well-adjusted indivduals, albeit neither are in the faiths anymore but that's another kettle of fish and not to do with what Deliver Us From Evil is about... then again, this probably doesn't help fellow Catholics or ex-Catholics.  It's one of the most devastating personal accounts of a long-known but long-covered up conspiracy by an evil corporation ever.

That's the key word here: think about it in those terms, outside of the usual God and Faith and Jesus and so on, the way the Catholic Church operates is much like a corporation, with its hierarchy and its tax breaks and enclosed system for men in high positions insulated from the rest of the world, and without a connection to the reality of the harm that they can cause... a lot.  It's this that makes Deliver Us From Evil so shocking, that the abuse by these priests on kids- and while this may not be news now, even the Pope's at least acknowledged it, makes it no less awful and inhumane- went on for so long unabated.  And more than that, aside from what many of us consider a given, that the Catholic Church has been covering up the biggest child sex-abuse scandal in modern history, is that director Amy Berg makes it personal, from belief scorned to families torn asunder.

We see the victims.  We see their families.  In interviews that are no-holds-barred the grown-ups who were abused by Ex-Father Oliver O'Grady, there's still shock and tears shed and rage at the embarrassment and total betrayal by someone who appeared, with all honesty, to be on the level.  One family in particular was especially hurt, as they invited the man into their home- the mother a devout Irish Catholic connecting with another Irish Catholic- and it was abuse on a five year old daughter for years.  Why not report it or say something earlier?  Shame? Misbegotten guilt?  It's also something to be said for what's revealed at one point in the documentary that when Presits do their abuse it's almost akin to an act of God, or something how they hold their robes or their symbols or whatever Goddamn piece of voodoo magic around at the time.

And, as well, it's something that kids did report and O'Grady did get in trouble for it... that is to say the Bishop, the even more corrupt Roger Mahony, transferred him to various other parishes and churches over the years, and always in the same California are (as a grab for power, the "appearance of Goodness" seemed a little stupid here, yet somehow, for over a decade, the cover-up seemed to stick).  What's so troubling and yet so compelling with O'Grady is his dis-associative disorder from reality.  By any reasonable reason he should still be in prison, or perhaps dead by shanking, but due to a plea deal while in the midst of trial he cut a deal, did seven years, and is now living fairly comfortably in Ireland, where he even took the time out to send letters to his former victims as a weird, seemingly-sincere way of apologizing.  As if he could ever!

But here's the rub: O'Grady appears, in many moments of the film, to be sincere, to seem almost philosophical about what he did.  And it fazes him, yet not so much about why his superiors kept moving him around and not doing anything.  It's like the kid blaming his junkie parents for not taking care of him since he became an arsonist or something.  It's strange all the same as he's a pure human monster - and make sure to take those two words, human and monster, into account.  He's not some one-sided figure that is so easy to make as a figure of hate.  On the contrary, compared to the other assholes in the Church seen here- Mahoney and some other old fuck on the stand- he seems rather genial!  One can see how he could get so close to these kids, to these families.  And yet Berg makes painfully, tragically clear, one must NEVER forget how twisted he was.  When one rapes a 5-month old while also seducing the parents of the household, there's some problems going on in the mind of someone.

It's an indictment of a person like O'Grady who could abuse trust and power like he had, and yet the documentary's greatness comes from wrapping that to the higher issue of it being practically like a child-sex ring with the Church for years (the numbers revealed, in Los Angels alone, are staggering).  We do see some attempts to try and curtail it, a trip with two of the grown-up victims going with a sympathetic priest to the Vatican to try to deliver a letter only (somewhat expectedly) turned away and further criticized for making a hubub.  By now, hopefully, the Church has taken a very big hit in terms of the corporate-power structure (at one point it was thought it would be a billion-dollar loss for them, I cry my third eye over that), but the film doesn't give any easy answers as to whether this will be the end or not.  Perhaps the documentary comes close to an attempt to give the most serious light yet on the subject.

It's a cogent, clear-sighted document of profound, almost incomprehensible crime perpetrated on various levels, from the ground-up (O'Grady, a mental case who at best should have been put under Nurse Ratched after the very first kid) to the Pope himself, who at one time looking every bit like his name (RATzinger, ho-ho) was in charge of covering up such child-sex crimes, of which the Church tried to make seemingly less serious by just grouping it in with all over sinful sexual acts.  Oh, whatever, they might say, boo friggidy hoo.  If Deliver Us From Evil serves no other purpose, it's to give as good a reason as any to reject a Church not because of what it preaches, but how it acts as a group, a company, made up of people who are not like Jesus.  Indeed if Jesus were around he'd probably go on a ball-kicker-cum-castration tour on general principle.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#30) THE SECRET OF KELLS by Tomm Moore

Now after so much time alotted to controversial and more "adult" themed movies, here's something for "the kids". I say in quotes as it should really mean, for "the kids" in us all, for this delightful animated feature from Ireland.

Rare do we, at least in the USA, get to see Irish animated features.  They aren't that common, are they?  I haven't done my research, I'll admit, but it's hard for me to think of many independently animated films that come out of the Emerald Isle.  This alone would put Tomm Moore's debut(!) feature film (first time directing anything actually) into a unique place in modern cinema.  But it's also a ravishingly and unusually beautiful film to look at.  You get lost in the design of the movie, how shapes and characters are drawn in some contours like we've yet to see quite like this.  It's a tale of magic and darkness, light and gloom, and the kind of high hopes, dreary outcome but awe-inspiring sense of place that comes with the Irish in their folks tales and, sometimes, mystical ways.

The story is a bit thin, so the short of it is that at an outpost called Kells an Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) stubbornly puts up a wall around the village to ward off from invaders, while mentoring his young apprentice Abbot Brendan.  But Brendan gets intrigued to go outside of the walls, and meets a young forest sprite (or what comes close to it I guess) named Aisling (though sounds like Ashley), who has run of the forest.  Aisling, who has a pale white face and long white hair but speaks like a girly Disney character (though sans the sass, more like a 1950's Disney character), intrigues Brendan enough to go back and get cracking with an older monk on writing a book.  How he makes the book is less interesting than how it looks; it's lots of crazy shapes, geometric figures that entrance the mind and bedazzle the senses, so much so that others who are working on the wall stop what they're doing to stare as young Brendan goes on working.

Okay, so not totally thin, but it's like a fairy tale, done with respect to children and to adults.  When the story gets dark, it doesn't pussyfoot around; Brendan has to go into one of those dark-deep-caves that always come about in these stories to face a demon of some sort (I forget the name now, they sometimes blend together in these films), and it's the shape of a black, demented ringwork who keeps munching at Brendan in a frantic struggle, until the young guy pulls free for the object he came for (one of those geometric shapes he needs to continue his book).  The worm goes on to eat itself to death, or what might come close to death.  No one weeps for it, since it's a black and gnarly looking thing surrounded by darkness- the path to it is like falling down a rabbit hole, though much easier for Brendan to get out- but it's one of the more intensely frightening visions: weird, mean, and not totally altogether real-looking.  It's something of pure dark fantasy.

As is much of the rest of the film.  If it comes closest to anything it's two things: the animation of Gendy Tartakovsky, who made his name with kid's shows (The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Lab) but also proved himself to know the prequels better than Lucas with his Clone Wars animated series, and Richard Williams, who made The Prince and the Cobbler (the rough cut, not the theatrical cut) into such a cornucopia of surreal delights that could still be accessible for most viewers.  The Secret of Kells follows in traditions of animations that aren't beholden to being entirely realistic, and yet we feel for these characters in their struggles against evil and in unlocking obscure secrets.

Tomm Moore and his co-director know how to make imagination seem fantastical but meaning something too.  His characters are the sort you'd find more in illustrated books for children as opposed to the usual animated film, certainly nowadays when a good hand-drawn feature is harder to come by than an 8-track.  This doesn't mean Moore uses just that; the backgrounds are all CGI, but woven into the foreground with ease.  I'm sorry to use this word (forgive the pretension in advance), but it's a tapestry of old-style and new-style animation, and it's sometimes hard to tell which is what.

If I loved the look of the film, and how characters could be light and fun like Aisley and the cat and when she turns to the wolf, then I also loved when it got dramatic in the climax where the invasion happens.  Less interesting is some of the elements in the plot itself; the book seems to be a MacGuffin for the sake of the mystical stuff of Kells, and maybe all for the better since it could have easily gone further into its more obvious metaphor, religion and belief specifically with Christianity (think about it, a book that restores hope in all humanity? get outta town).

The Secret of Kells has the wonder of pure visual delight; one hasn't seen something quite like it, despite its familiarity, and its warmth with the characters is what shines through.  It can't help since it's a fairy tale to have some one-note characters, such as Brendan Gleeson's Abbot who is all the same "Don't go outside OR ELSE!" through the film until near the end.  But that can be forgiven for its spectacle and sophistication in its design, for the gobsmackingly-must-own-this-immediately Celctic musical score, and its ultimately positive message for kids that doesn't feel hackneyed.  If you're an adult reading this it's just the thing to get your kids past the pop-culture-engorged feasts of Dreamworks animated pics, or other less-inspired CGI fare.


The start of a new themed blog entry that may come up from time to time, that is as often as I go to cineplexes.  As coined helpfully by Kevin Murphy in A Year at the Movies, a Googolplex is a kind of further extension of a cineplex, in that it's a very large, nightmarish place that, like its actual definition, has so many theaters.  Not all of the movies I see at the cineplex are even bad, some end up on my best of the year list (hell, Scott Pilgrim was seen thrice last year at the same Googolplex and always in digital-projection).  So, when I see a bunch of movies there in a row, I'll blog about it in this such titled entry-series that I came up with in those few minutes before one goes to sleep.  The recursive G sounds were what did it really.


For my first film of the day, I ventured rather far (though not into NYC) to see this latest film from Sofia Coppola, playing only twice a day at the super-deluxe-combo-sized mall, the Palisades Center in West Nyack, NY.  For those who haven't been, think of the Mall of America only not quite as large (but close): a mammoth place where consumer whores venture to get their buy on (myself, sadly, included, as I did today before seeing this but after missing, thanks to *too many people taking up parking spots, grr*, my originally intended first film, The Way Back, which I'll just have to see another day).

Four floors, all packed to the gills with all kinds of stores, a few of them now closed down like FYE, all kinds of rich and poor people of obnoxious and crying-baby varieties, and even an ice rink and an actual honest to goodness IMAX theater, the kind that plays 70MM films (I almost caved to go to there, but sadly missed Hubble 3D, the only one worth seeing).  So, I stuck around and finally got in on this movie, with only four other people in the small theater at this super-deluxe-combo-sized AMC theater, with 21 screens.  Since I've gone here that's the largest I've come across next to the AMC Empire 25, only here not spaced like that theater, which I'll get to in a moment.

I knew I had to knock this one off the list sooner or later; I don't consider myself a big fan of Sofia Coppola's films, but I'm not a dismisser either of all of her works being empty or vapid or the works of a priveleged girl who has yet to have a film not produced or supported fully financially by her father, Francis Ford, with American Zoetrope (the last one is a fact, however, albeit none of her films are mammoth undertakings even Marie Antoinette included).  Somewhere comes close to most trying my patience with her style as of yet, a minimalist tale of an empty-inside Blockbuster movie actor who is akin to Ben Stiller's Tug Speedman from Tropic Thunder, at least as far as I could tell from one scene with a movie poster, and who spends his time at the infamous Chateau Marmont.

He has the kind of life any of us might like: lots of comped food, lots of comped strippers who dance on poles in his room, massages, trips to Milan to promote his movies, and other fun stuff like cars and whatnot.  He's not the quasi-washed-up actor of Bill Murray from Lost in Translation.  This makes it just a little difficult to sympathize with him, if only as compared to Murray (if I might indulge for just a moment in comparison), as Douriff's Johnny Marco has a pretty swell life.  To be sure, he's not married to the mother of his child, and he does have a kind of repetitive lifestyle- made perhaps a wee bit clear in a clever but shallow opening "metaphor" as Marco drives in a circle on a race track- but he's got the sweet life that many of us would dig: lots of perks, lots of free stuff, lots of girls on call, and genuine happiness with his daughter, at least for the time being she's there.

The movie is a series of vignettes really, not so much a story, which would be fine ala 'Translation', except that  this time it feels even more listless and aimless in where it's going.  It even could resemble a home movie with just much better cinematography (in fact this, from Harry Sivedes, is one of the things that kept me never quite bored during the running time, which is saying a lot for his credit).  We mostly see Johnny and his daughter Cleo hanging out, playing video games, hanging out more, eating, chit-chatting minor stuff, then going off to Milan, then coming back hanging out more, then seeing her off to camp, and then back to just hanging out.  I understand Coppola's eventual aim with the characters, that this is all there is and there isn't much of a life to be had with it, hence some tears shed late in the game from Cleo (wondering about where her mother is going off to, which is a "plot point" in quotes that is barely addressed and left needlessly ambiguous), and by Johnny, coming to his realization.

I suppose if I had to pinpoint what bugged me about the film is not so much the intended aimlessness, which can be fine, but how there is so little there there for a lot of the running time.  Minimalism, or something like it or "real" time of action can be fantastic, but usually it's in service of a story that has some actual thrust, say in Jim Jarmusch movies or 2010's The American.  Coppola's minimalism is the stuff of just, oh, ho-hum, whatever stuff, again like a home-movie.  There are occasionally lingering senses of what is at stake for Johnny Marco, but it doesn't come off as very dramatic (certainly not at the very end, which comes off as a moment that feels like the movie turned off before something was about to happen... Something... ah, 'Some' in the title, make sense!)  But it's more about mood and just ambiance of stuff, which, again, is fine, but at what cost?  Even Antonioni's insights into the empty bougeois had them in something of a semblance of a story.

And yet the effort ultimately is a mixed effort; I can begrudge the film for not doing "a lot" of stuff, yet I think that it still doesn't quite come close to Andy Warhol's minimal/empty movies.  There is entertainment to be had here, in spurts, and at times Johnny's blank expressions or befuddlement serves for some good comedy, like falling asleep with a girl in bed during a certain 'act' (also during the first of the stripper-pole dances), or with a goofy scene with a male masseuse disrobing(!), not to mention some of the oddness with being a movie star and having to do bullshit press junkets with pretentious questions like "Who IS Johnny Marco?"

Acting in the Somewhere is also commendable, albeit Stephen Dorff is no Bill Murray when it comes to interesting blank-faced actors playing actors.  Elle Fanning fares much better as a young girl playing a girl who is both wiser than her age and still a little kid needing parental guidance and love.  Most surprising is Chris Pontius, for once not in a role where he dances around like a male stripped (Jackass) as one of Johnny's friends.  And there is one particular scene, where Johnny is being fitted for a special effects head-thing and is covered completely with plaster, that is hypnotic in how the shot slowly zooms on him and is just this white caked-up face.  That, for my money, has deeper philosophical and visual meaning than a car in circles.

The short of it is, Somewhere has the shape of an experiment instead of a regular narrative, yet with characters that we're still supposed to care about and feel for as if it were a regular tragic-comedy.  It's not too quirky or too oddball or anything like that, on the contrary Coppola's made a serious, self-knowing film that respects the little minutia of life's little moments.  Whether people will want to revisit it again and again like her earlier works is still too early to tell, but I suspect not as much.


After Somewhere ended, I needed one more movie for the night, and decided instead of slipping out buying another ticket and going back in to do one of my 'moves': the sneak.  Oh, I know, it's wrong and so on, but with certain films (and in this economy, make that my economy really) it has to be done.  It's not the first nor the last time, and it's a trick that is pretty simple to master: if you want to sneak around, make sure it's at a theater conducive for it, where people won't really notice so much (that is the employees) and where the theaters are in close proximity.

There's one theater in particular, the Garden State Plaza AMC, where I'll go into more detail on it being the simplest theater, but for now the Palisades Center theater.  It's a three-pronged place where it's split up into thirds (7 one side, 7 one side, 7 one side), so the game-plan should be based around a) what's playing when, and b) how close.  It also helps if people walk around about you for easier sneaking.  And for gosh-sakes, buy a snack or two, don't look like a creep going so immediately from one theater to another (as for ticket stubs... well, you'll just have to figure that shit out on your own).  Already I think I may have said too much, so for now let's just mosey on to the movie itself:

For the second movie, The Mechanic, I ended up missing the first few minutes, which I could surmise from what I saw walking in- a newly made corpse in a swimming pool- that Jason Statham was already at work killing people.  This time he's in remake mode again, this being a re-tooling of Michael Winner's 1972 film of the same name with Charles Bronson in the lead played (in wise re-casting) by Statham here and Jan Michael Vincent in the role played by Ben Foster here.  The main detailing in the "upgrade" to the 21st century is to have a director this time, Simon West, who is kind of an action hack with big budget movies, with his first notable one (Con Air) still being his pinnacle.  The rest of his work is not much to get excited about (forgettable Travolta, The General's Daughter, almost forgotten Angelina Jolie vehicle, Lara Croft Tomb Raider, and a recently shot pilot for a reportedly very bad superhero show called The Cape).  His work this time is... somewhat excitable, and at the same time not at all.

What he brings to the game in updating this story, which at the time was somewhat fresh in 1972 before upteenth hundreds of hitman flicks took this kind of premise - a "Mechanic", or a super-bad and slick hit-man who does kills without leaving a trace, has to kill his former mentor by order, and then takes under his wing his mentor's son who is more than a bit of a loose cannon that needs his anger tamed - is FAST ACTION.  You know the kind, with quick cuts and super-gory kills and stabbings and shootings, and lots of BIG explosions.  He's not as egregious in action-movie offenses as Michael Bay, though they both came up in the same Bruckheimer school of late 90's testosterone-fests, but it's close.  As an action director he's at best mildly entertaining, but somehow, since Con Air, he's kind of regressed into ridiculous-town territory, mostly saved by Jason Statham being such an excellent on-screen action presence.

The other disturbing thing is the disconnect between the first half of the film and the second, as the first is a relatively involving thriller-drama where the acting (even by the stiff Tony Goldwyn) is compelling with the material presented; Statham, Donald Sutherland, and as usual the mega-intense Foster make their characters count and matter, and there are some stakes at hand that make things interesting in the predictable dynamic between Arthur and Steve.  And, to be fair, some of the violence, such as a rather brutal fight between Steve and another big-as-hell Mechanic who has a thing for little boys, is taut and exciting and with an audience like the one I was with (predominantly super-into-the-action urban kids and adults) made for some hollering fun.

That is, really, until it just becomes ridiculous, which is mostly in the climactic showdown between the Mechanic(s) and the villain, and then after this with the bullshit denouement.  It's not that it's hard to see this coming, far from it, it's practically foreshadowed from the first scenes as to what will happen between Arthur and Steve.  There could have been some excellent catharsis, but instead it's just an excuse for HOLY-FUCK-HELL EXPLOSIONS where the placement of characters doesn't make total sense (in a spoiler-free discussion I could go on, but it's too soon as of this writing to dig deep about it, plus it's asinine anyway).  Suffice to say if your big end-scene involves music from Barry Lyndon and a detonator, something's kind of cracked in Cocaine Town.

The Mechanic can be fun and mindless excitement from the current mega-star of B-movies, as Statham as usual brings his stern-faced A-Game to the material, and Foster is a dependable side-kick, even through some of West's penchant for music-video shooting and editing montages.  But it hints devilishly at being more than it could be; whether this is more on the director or the producers I can't say.  It's half intelligent and well- acted action thriller and half direct-to-video trash.  And sadly lacking Neveldine/Taylor!


This is actually more like a 'playing ketchup' entry; I saw this almost two weeks ago at the likable Edgewater National Amusements Multiplex (the only one I know of in the area not an AMC or a Clearview).  The sweet thing about this theater is its "Six Dollar Tuesdays", where all day for all showtimes (even the 3D ones) all movies are only six dollars, and a coupon for six dollars for small drink and popcorn!  This is a fun and clever way to try and get people to go to see movies more on weeknights, which is a better idea more often than not as to avoid big crowds and the And yet even with this incentive I decided to stay clear of the 3D for The Green Hornet, in first part as it was not shot for 3D and secondly that it ultimately really didn't need it, save perhaps (very arguably) for some of the fight scenes.  It's an agreeable movie to watch in 2D, as it's meant to be, in some part, like a 1990's goofy superhero flick.  Meant to be, by the way, not entirely.

I really did want to love this movie, as it's by a director who has made some of the wildest idiosyncratic work as a director in the past decade, Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine, Science of Sleep, chunks of Be Kind Rewind, the underrated Thorn in the Heart), not to mention his cornucopia of music videos that have set the bar to a whole other plain of artistic imagination and depth and invigoration.  But for this film, he is, by proxy of it being a Seth Rogen vehicle, mostly a hired gun here and there contributing a few cool visuals- mostly the fight scenes, which are given a slight twist on The Matrix by Kato's seemingly alien ability to zoom-in on his targets and project them across distances- and one scene involving a "I got it!" revelation scene set against the LA skyline and involving people as potted plants.

As a Seth Rogen vehicle, which is really what it is, it's... hit or miss.  In telling the story from the TV series and/or comic books about Britt Reid, son of newspaper mogul who has to step up and take some responsibility when his father dies and his "butler" Kato turns out to be a weapons/car expert and thus become the Green Hornet + Kato in fighting crime on the streets, it's still a Seth Rogen movie.  Meaning, from the guys who brought you Superbad and Pineapple Express.  This is fine for maybe the first twenty minutes or so, where we see Rogen as the party guy and irresponsible jack-ass he is.  It's when the plot gets further in to gear that he becomes a bigger Jackass (with a capital J) and gets into fights with Kato, one of which to such an insane extent as to try and top They Live's iconic fight, that he becomes very unsympathetic as a hero.  We want to see Britt Reid come into his own and get past his Billy Madison-ish ways, but when it finally does come about it comes all too quickly, as dictated by a plot as opposed to by natural character choices.  He makes Tony Stark look like the classiest cat in history by comparison, and he's technically a drunk lunatic!

And yet I would be remiss to say The Green Hornet doesn't provide some aural and visual pleasures and entertainment through some of it.  Jay Chau does what he can with a part that is sadly underwritten (or that he doesn't quite have the same charisma, or given enough time with it, as he does for his physical prowess), and it's a part that is the real bad-ass of the movie, the one who does all of the real work save for an idea here and there (ejector seats) or the gas-gun.  The opening scene will suck in most viewers who have an admiration for James Franco who plays an over-the-top villian who goes on and on about his name and how much Christoph Waltz's villain character (Bludnofsky, he keeps repeating) and the shit he's got in his office before he's taken down.  And Waltz himself brings his A-game to material that so doesn't deserve the likes of him, as a villain whose main thing, somewhat similar to how Britt has trouble coming up with a good "name" on the spot with the color Green, with what name to have, closing in on "Blood-nofsky".  Cameron Diaz... is no great shakes, and Edward James Olmos is underused, albeit in a somewhat thankless role.

But some of the action, even as it gets crazy in the final reel, is entertaining and Michel Gondry doesn't ever fuck up too bad on that scale.  He knows how to shoot it and let it go into some wild spots.  Even Rogen himself can be funny in the role (until, by the halfway mark, he's just annoying, almost on a level not seen since Observe and Report).  The main problems are right there in where a lot of movie's problems lie, in the script.  Rogen and his co-writer Evan Goldberg are fine and sometimes uproarious/outrageous comedy writers, however with conventional comic-book stuff they just don't know entirely how to handle all of the nuts and bolts to invigorate an already stale story (think back, who played the Green Hornet on the TV show... uh, no not Bruce Lee, the other one... right).  I mean, make us care about what's happening with these guys, get us on their side somehow, not just with goofy one-liners and all-too-quick wrap-around towards redemption.  They understand writing a jerk on one level, but not the progression of a hero from a "zero" so to speak.

In the Green Hornet it's as if all the parts are there for success, and in spurts and starts it succeeds and can be impressive like that mega-car Kato pimps out, and yet the whole doesn't quite work.  An entertaining shame.

Netflix-a-thon (#29) Coleman Francis' THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (via MST3K)

"This movie stops at nothing, and stays there." (Tom Servo)

Ah, Coleman Francis. A filmmaker so tasteless and untalented that in an average Pepsi-Coke challenge between himself and Ed Wood, Plan 9 would come out right on top. Hey, at least that monstrosity has cheesily quotable dialog and it can even entice the main crew on Seinfeld to want to go see it at a midnight showing. The Beast at Yucca Flats, one of a few of the (thankfully) limited body of work of Mr. Francis, is so bad that you can hear the director's mother still wailing from her maggot-ridden grave. It's a movie in its conception and construction, but it doesn't resemble anything close to entertaining or enlightening or (Dog-Forbid) scary.  It's one of those so-cheap-it's-nothing movies where it was shot without sound and without common sense; instead of the usual ADR, he had actors speak their "lines" away from the camera, looking away or their hands over their mouths or in long-shots.  And the narration... oh boy.

I wish I could say there's a story to tell, but there isn't even that, except that there's a big scary 'Beast', an Russian ex-scientist played by Tor Johnson (if you can believe that) is nearby a nuclear testing site and a bomb goes off, awash in the radiation.  Now a monster (if you could not believe that) roams the countryside like Kane in Kung-fu looking for victims to Kill Kill KILL because... well, he's a bombed-out Russian ex-Scientist with a big need for choking women and frightening the children.  The rest of the movie is... just that, wandering around, kids lost, and a bad rip-off of North by Northwest's cornfield chase scene supplanted with a small plane and a gun.  That and Francis who so ever so graciously gives us narration, beat by beat, stroke by stroke as he appears to be drunk on Shakespearean accent.

What's hilarious is that Francis has three directed movies, all of which in the Bottom 100, and indeed the three works of "art" (this, The Skydivers, and Red Zone Cuba) are so terrible as to be in the bottom twenty on the list.  Not to mention all three are done-in so graciously by the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000.  This was the only way to go to watch this piece of work, which is almost designed by accident to show aspiring filmmakers what NOT to do, like, say, bore the audience into oblivion or (heavy Charlie Sheen level) drink, or to, you know, do the worst ADR job in the history of the medium.  And yet Francis Comes Alive thanks to Mike Nelson and the robots, who at one point in one of their segway 'bits' in-between the movie come up with the FAPS: "The Film Anti-Preservation Society" where they ask for donations from the audience so as to transfer the movies on to very delicate and flammable silver nitrate film stock.

Tom Servo: "Yes, we get it, breasts, now move along!"
It seems that the law of averages (though not scientifically researched just my own theory really) that the worse a movie is, the better the MST3K and/or Rifftrax commentary.  This is why Francis is so ripe for their treatment, and why another Worst-Ever movie, Manos: The Hands of Fate, is perhaps their crowning achievement in snarkery.  It's a movie that so begs condescension that you will end up joining in at home.

Some of the choice ones to give you an idea of the prowess of Mike, Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu as robots Tom Servo and Crow:

(on a line of narration: "Shoot first, ask questions later"): "ask Christian Slater?"

(on a guy flying a plane and aiming out a window to shoot at someone): "Is he piloting with his feet?!"

(on a particularly bad shot of a scurvy character): "This is why the close-up was invented."

(on children walking aimlessly in the fields): "Nickelodeon's Waiting for Godot."

(another close-up on an older woman): "She was in (Ingmar) Bergman's film where she played Low Self-Esteem."

(the very last shot, 'improvised' said the producer, where a bunny goes up to the *DEAD* Tor Johnson and he pets at in): "Now the bunny eats Tor and becomes Night of the Lepus."

(in general): "Well, we're in Wisconsin now, or is it Cuba or Nevada, whatever."

So, lines like that, quips, puns, witticisms, sometimes just noises, make up the milieu of the MST3K gang.  And in this 'program' it's not just Coleman Francis' film but since it's so short in length (perhaps most mercifully at 54 minutes) the rest of the time is spent on two shorts beforehand called "Money Talks" where a silhouette of Benjamin Franklin guilt trips a kid for spending too much money, all ten cents he frickin' has, and a short on Puerto Rico called "Progress Island USA" done in the 70's that is a snooze-fest travelogue with an opening and coda that has frantic montage, leaving Mike and the robots to conclude "Fine, FINE, we'll go, just stop it already!"

A metaphor for the movie's critical reception
The bits in-between are hit or miss, as usual on the other movie shows: the FAPS bit is very funny, though a bit where Crow keeps on bugging Mike about "is it 11:30?" so he can eat lunch is stretched a little too far with a weak punchline.  But if you do decide to fast-forward past these little bits you won't miss much; the main attraction is where it's at, and with Beast at Yucca Flats- a title that almost has a Yiddish tinge to it with Yucha or just 'Yuck'- it's a gold mine, if nothing else because there are long stretches without dialog, or with bumbling, awkward and terrible narration or dialog that is meager at best, allows for much more space to riff, and there's barely a moment that isn't struck and practically every line is funny.  Maybe Francis thought he was making something different and important, and does try different things than the average 50's sci-fi flick.  It just never works, not once.  A shame for the cast and crew (but hey, they're not alive now, most of em anyway, so why carp), fun for the rest of us.