In depth and mini reviews of movies with a sprinkling of nostalgia and film music musings.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Lost Continent (1951) – MST3K Review
Friday, March 25, 2011
The Death Kiss (1932)
You know there are a few movies with “Death” and “Kiss” in the title. This may be the first. But does that make this flick from the 100 Mystery Classics collection better than “Kiss of Death” or “A Kiss Before Dying”?
On the set of a movie one of the actors is killed during a scene where he is gunned down. The police are called in and soon find out that no one liked the dead chump. Luckily writer Franklyn Drew (David Manners) is on hand to make sure that his gal Marcia (Adrienne Ames) doesn’t get accused of this murder most foul. Of course with Mr. Steiner (Bela Lugosi) standing around and glowering, it’s hard to suspect him. Things spiral out of control rather quickly and bodies start stacking up. Is there a clever murderer around, or does Marcia really have “The Death Kiss”?
- Interesting glimpse on how a movie set might have worked in the 30’s
- Bela isn’t playing a vampire!
- Adrienne Ames is pretty in a 30’s kinda way
- Dumb humor and no threat drags down pacing
- Bela is hardly in it
- David Manners is pretty annoying
Another 30’s crack at the humorous mystery and one that falls flat. The mystery is rather dull, and the humor is really dated. I found none of the characters are likable. In the end a few interesting moments dealing with the murders and some of the 30s styling kept this from being a complete waste of time. But there are better comedy mysteries to enjoy (“The Thin Man” for instance).
Scores (out of 5)
Once again we get a script that just doesn’t do too much to keep the viewers interest. The murder itself starts out interesting, with the set getting locked down almost immediately and yet none of the clues adding up. I liked how all the extras playing G-men had a caliber of weapon completely different from the bullet that was used on the victim. When Drew discovers the actual murder weapon it was pretty clever.
In fact a lot of the main elements of the murders were handled well. When you think about it, the killer was doing a great job deflecting suspicion on everyone else. But the identity of the killer is telegraphed especially when you start piecing together who had access to what parts of the studio.
They do go out of their way to make Bela look like the culprit, but it’s so obvious that you end up writing him off. Mostly he stands around and scowls and looks grim.
For me it was David Manners who really made this difficult to enjoy. He plays that type of hero who is smug and a know it all. He spends the entire movie mocking the detective assigned to the case. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but Manners really grated on me. I’ve seen this before, where most the cops are portrayed as muscle bound morons. In fact you see this in “The Thin Man”, but William Powell has a lot more charisma than Manners.
But a lot of it has to do with the bad comedy writing. There are attempts at witty one liners, and they mostly fail. Then there are the broad humorous moments, mostly revolving around the idiot security guard and the bad Jewish stereotypical studio boss. Wow, talk about uncomfortable. There really isn’t a laugh to be found here.
So what you get is a pretty weak effort with a few moments of interest. The movie is immersed in the 30’s so if you like the fashions and designs you’ll find some neat stuff (the studio bosses office is impressive). Otherwise, avoid it.
James Lileks had a lot to say about this one. Check out his review here.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
My fellow reviewers over at DVD Verdict picked this film as the DVD release of the year. I was one of the few the missed it, so I decided to rectify it. The only thing I really knew about it was that the title reminded me a lot of the old Nintendo game “Bart Simpson vs. The World”.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) may be dating a high school girl, but its all a front. He’s still recovering from a nasty break up. Well, he was until he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). It’s love at first sight for Scott, but little does he know that seven evil Exs are going to make it very tough for him. They start popping up all over the place, challenging him to duels and creating all kinds of havoc. Does Scott have what it takes to defeat them and date Ramona, or is he going to be the subject of a fatality.
- Visually expressive
- The cast is gung ho and having a great time
- A true geek movie
- Runs a little long
- Takes itself too seriously on a number of occasions
- Vissually assaulting
Another example of taking a premise from a comic book and just letting it go to town on the screen. Combining video game aesthetics with a romantic comedy story and injecting killer action scenes seems like a recipe for disaster. Director Edgar Wright makes it look easy. The end result is one fun movie.
Scores (out of 5)
In Depth Review
This movie reminded me a lot of “Moulin Rouge” in that it is embracing the art of telling a story using film-making techniques. It’s not quite as hyperactive as Luhrman’s film, but it has that same spirit. And that is a spirit of fun. Scott Pilgrim is meant to entertain your eyes and ears, and it succeeds marvelously. I’ve got to give director Edgar Wright a hand, he makes it look easy.
When you boil it down to basics, this is a romantic comedy. It’s got boy meets girl, boy fights for girl and boy wins girl all over it. That simple story is what helps and hinders the film. In a way, you don’t have to worry too much about the plot because you know how it’s going to turn out. At the same time, Wright goes out of his way to build the characters and create added depth. It’s not a bad thing, but it does end up slowing the movie down in a few places. Most comedies of this type can only sustain about 90 minutes or so, and “Scott Pilgrim” is pushing two hours. Still, just when it feels like it’s flagging a bit much, something outrageous happens to pull you back in.
Taking elements from video games, comic books, television shows and slamming them all together into a geek pop-culture blender is what makes the movie so much fun. And here is where I wonder if viewers who didn’t grow up playing 8-bit Nintendo or reading Japanese comic books are going to enjoy this movie as much. Everything from the music and sound effects down to the posing and lighting is reminiscent of these pop-culture elements. The battles between Scott and the Ex’s are done with the over the top zeal of a game of “Street Fighter II” or “Mortal Kombat”. These battle scenes are the highlight of the film, each one is a color bombastic blast. The stylized elements appear all way through the film, but it’s the battle scenes that show them off.
The cast is completely committed to the concept and the story. Cera nails the part of Scott, a typical geek who has fallen hard for Ramona. His love triangle with her and the high school girl Knives (Ellen Wong) is well played. You can tell he likes Knives a lot, but it’s Ramona he wants to be with. Winstead makes Ramona alluring, smart, a little bitchy but still obtainable. It’s a tougher part than it first appears, but she’s a great fit. The rest of the cast is just as good, with Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Satya Bhabha, Chris Evans, Brie Larson and Jason Schwartsman having a ton of fun.
The music is a nice mix of pop songs and electronic music. Much of the electronic work includes samples from the video games being parodied in the film, and adds to the humor. Sound effects follow the same theme, mixing the real with the electronic.The more I think about this movie, the more I appreciate what Wright has done. A had a similar reaction to Speed Racer by the Wachowski brothers. This movie managed to avoid some of the pitfalls of that film and is superior in many ways. But that energy and excitement to be doing something fun flows right off the screen and into the viewers. But I can also see that enthusiasm actually keeping some folks from enjoying the film. So I recommend it cautiously. If you’re of the age that remembers playing “Street Fighter II” in the arcade, someone who grows nostalgic when you hear the MIDI theme from “Legend of Zelda” and someone who enjoys a good comic book, check out “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”. You’ll probably finish with a smile on your face.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Nostalgia Nugget: Star Wars – The Special Edition
What’s kind of funny is that these days “Star Wars” is omnipresent. There are video games, there are televisions shows, there are countless releases of toys, CDs and DVDs out there to keep the fans happy.
But I remember the dark time, the time that spanned from about 1986 to around 1995, a dark decade where Star Wars was seriously uncool. There was no word on new movies. The toys were long gone. Even the musical scores were tough to find. Things started to pick up around 1992 or so when “Heir to the Empire” was released on paperback. Timothy’s Zahn’s book nailed the feel of the Star Wars universe so well that folks started revisiting the films and talking about them again.
But the lead up to the twentieth anniversary was something else. The toys came back, the sound tracks were remastered and rereleased. The movies were released one more time on VHS in their original form. At the time we didn’t know what the meant exactly, but we snatched those suckers up.
Then the trailers started to appear. All three movies, in theaters again for the 20th anniversary. They were cleaned up in both the visual and sound departments. And there were going to be a few “new surprises”. Sure, some of the surprises ended up causing long time fans convulsions, but at that time expectations were high.
Thing was, Star Wars was cool again. Everyone who popped into the video store I worked at was buzzing about it. We couldn’t keep the trilogy on the shelves. I was attending university at the time, and folks there were excited. Most of the guys I knew grew up with the movies as kids, but didn’t really have clear memories of seeing the movies in the theaters. So this was going to be a real treat. It was a great time to be a Star Wars fan.
I’m still not sure how it happened, but I ended up with free tickets to see “Star Wars: the Special Edition” about a month before it came out in theaters. I brought my wife (then my girlfriend) and she picked out a pal from her work. Or maybe he got the tickets… I’m still not sure. Anyway we headed out to the theater a few hours early, not sure what the lines were going to be like. We weren’t the first, but we were near the front. There was a guy sitting there with a cardboard sign reading “I am R2D2’s lovechild”.
You could tell everyone was excited. And while there were some folks dressed up, it was nothing like the spectacle my friend witnessed when he saw the film opening night at Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood. Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers stopped traffic that day. But it was still an excited crowd.
We were let into the theater, found our seats, close to the middle, and waited. You could feel the electricity in the room as way too many geeks were waiting for the movie to start. And once “A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away…” appeared on the screen, we went nuts.
It was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had at the movies. The crowd was into the movie, obviously, and having a blast. They were respectfully quiet for a good portion of the movie, and yet overly enthusiastic about all kinds of things. Every introduction of every main character got applause and cheering. Classic lines were greeted with cheering. And the changes were absorbed in absolute silence.
The moments I remember vividly are the following: The first time Greedo (the green alien that Han kills) appears on the screen in a 30 second flash got applause. The transition from C3P0 lost in the desert to R2 D2 rolling around in the canyon was cleaned up and a gorgeous digital sunset was added. This got a huge Whoooaaaaaa! from the crowd, followed by laughter at our unified gasp. No one but a bunch of hard core Star Wars fans would even notice that change, but there it was. And now every time I watch the special edition with my wife, we both utter the “Whoooooaaaa!” at the scene in tribute. And then there was the huge applause for Porkins, and then mock wailing when he was blown up about five minutes later.
The excitement of the whole thing was a highpoint as a fan. After that we caught the films in the theater and enjoyed them. It was great to see the asteroid chase and Luke’s final duel against Vader on the big screen. At the showing of “The Empire Strikes Back” we attended there were some small kids sitting nearby and it was great to hear their reactions to the film and wondering how close they were to my own back in 1980.
All the excitement coursed over into the hype for the first new Star Wars film in 1999. After that the prequels ended up changing things for long time fans, but that’s the subject of another post.
Here, I just wanted to reminisce about the good times, the late 90’s when Star Wars was cool and everyone was talking about it in a positive way.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
The Girl Who Kick the Hornets Nest (2009)
Well, I had to complete the trilogy didn’t I? The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire were solid thrillers and after the cliffhanger of the last movie, I needed to see just what would happen to Lisbeth and Mikael. Let’s see if this series can end on a high note.
The events of the previous film land Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) in the hospital. But it’s not as safe as you might think. Lisbeth is attacked, and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) believes it may be because she has evidence that could bring down a major conspiracy. The danger starts to ramp up as mysterious figures pursue both Lisbeth and Mikael. Will he be able to gather enough evidence to keep Lisbeth out of an asylum for trying to kill her father? Will Lisbeth avoid the very angry killer that is just waiting for her to make a mistake? The fate of “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” hangs in the balance.
- More great acting from the whole cast.
- Both Mikael and Lisbeth get to share the spotlight
- Some great tension filled sequences
- Focuses more on the court case and less on physical peril
- Seems a bit choppy in places
- The ending resolves much but leaves you wanting more
All in all not a bad way to end the series. The focus on the court case against Lisbeth and the way Mikael gathers evidence is pretty interesting. But the film lacks the overall momentum of the previous entry and the atmosphere of the first one. Still it gets some solid intensity going, especially near the end. A few places are a bit choppy for someone who didn’t read the books (like me), but in the end I enjoyed this film and felt it brought the story to a good conclusion. Worth checking out if you enjoyed the first two.
Scores (out of 5)
Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
1986 was not a good year for NASA. The Challenger space shuttle took its final flight that year. That made the release of this film a bit awkward. But it was one of those that ended up on cable so often that it was a staple of the 80’s. How does it hold up years later?
Our newest cadets at SpaceCamp are ready for some adventure. Kathryn (Lea Thompson) is ready to be the first female shuttle commander, and is annoyed that Kevin (Tate Donovan) isn’t taking anything seriously. Meanwhile Max (Joaquin Phoenix) is a Star Wars fan who befriends a robot named Jinx and gets picked on. No I didn’t make that last sentence up. During a test of the space shuttle Atlantis’ engines, our cadets and their teacher Andie (Kate Capshaw) get launched into space (thanks to Jinx) and now must survive a few orbits and figure out a way to get back home. Will their training at “SpaceCamp” serve them well?
- Captures the excitement of space travel
- Some pretty good weightless effects
- Has the 80’s spirit of fun
- Cheesy script and acting abound
- Jinx… wow
- Did I mention it was 80’s?
If you can get past the corny acting, some really badly written dialogue and your typical 80’s kids movie vibe, you’ll have a good time. Honestly, this movie is all about having fun and not really wondering how a little robot could manage to get kids launched into space. It’s like “Iron Eagle”, but a more entertaining.
Scores (out of 5)
Total: 3Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.