On A Perfect World (1993)

Book coverA couple of weeks ago, one of the blogs I read mentioned this film (not the Ace of Spade HQ movie thread which mentioned Clint Eastwood only this weekend). Sorry, but I read so many blogs that if I don’t post on something right away and instead, if it sticks a little nugget in my brain triggering a thought days later, it’s lost in the torrents of time. So sorry for no hat tip, other blogger. But when I saw you mention it, when it came time for a film at Nogglestead, I tried to tempt a young man to watch a film with me, offering Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Fast and Furious, but when the boy demurred, I settled on this film which I bought sometime in antiquity. I know that not because it’s a videocassette–I buy them all the time inexpensively–but because it was in the movie cabinet and not atop it.

So I watched it.

The story details how two convicts, Kevin Costner and the other guy, break out of a Texas prison and go on the run. They end up with a hostage, a boy whose home the other guy invades instead of stealing a car, and Costner prevents the fellow from raping the mother before they get away. The boy and the fugitive bond a bit as the boy’s family is strict and the fugitive was abandoned at a young age, and he grew up in bordellos but did not grow up to be Brahms. Clint Eastwood leads a Texas state team of law enforcement in pursuit in a new mobile command trailer that has all the latest gear–and steaks and tots in the freezer. So we see the fugitive and the boy bond, but although we get some sympathy for the fugitive, he eventually goes a bit off the rails and is stopped when the boy defends another father from the fugitive. Which leads to a long climax/denouement and ending. And a closing that matches the opening shot which frames the whole thing for some reason.

So I guess the deeper story is the fugitive bonding with the boy, making some of the same mistakes he would have expected his father to make (trysting with a waitress at a roadhouse, for example, telling the boy to wait in the car) to his trying to rectify his father’s sins (making a father tell his son that he loves him presumably before the fugitive before the he is setting up to kill the father). But it doesn’t work for me, maybe because I’m a father busy making different mistakes than my own father (he was the type to tryst with waitresses), and I don’t have to project or empathize with the fugitive as much as many men without fathers might.

At any rate, not a bad film, but probably not something I’ll rewatch unless I’m on a complete Clint Eastwood retrospective. Which might happen in the next thirty years.

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On Legend of the Drunken Master (1994)

Book coverI ordered this a year or so back when I thought maybe the boys would enjoy Jackie Chan films. A year later, I have discovered that they really didn’t, or maybe they just aren’t interested in watching films with their father these days. So I watched this film, which I thought I’d seen before during the middle 1990s, when a member of my gaming group introduced us to Jackie Chan with some of his old films. But as I watched this film, it was very unfamiliar. I learned that the film I had seen when this film was fresh was Drunken Master from 1978, and this is The Legend of the Drunken Master, a sequel sixteen years later capitalizing on Jackie Chan’s new international fame.

This film starts with Wong (Jackie Chan, not named not Jackie in this film) is on the train with his father and brother, bringing ginseng back for a neighbor, when a fight breaks out, and Jackie battles with someone who he thinks is trying to steal the ginseng. When he successfully returns with an ornate box in which they were carrying the root, it turns out that another man was carrying the imperial seal in a similar box. Hijinks ensue when Wong uses a root from his father’s prized bonsai tree in the stead of the ginseng when it’s presented to the neighbor and when his stepmother takes out a loan on her jewels to try to buy real ginseng before the neighbor ingests the bonsai root. At the bottom, though, the plot is about the Westerners trying to steal the Imperial Seal (which was also the MacGuffin in Shanghai Knights–and as far as the plot of the film being the Westerners stealing China’s heritage, that’s awful prevalent).

So it’s fairly standard Jackie Chan fare, especially the post-popularity Jackie Chan fare, which all has a similar feel and vibe to it. Which is okay until you start thinking about why so many of these films have Westerners as the bad guys. The West is almost 100 years past the inscrutible Oriental as the stereotypical villain (well, all right, sixty years after Dr. No), and we’re the benighted culture according to, well, popular culture.

The film also has another common trope from Chinese films: The young wife. Wong’s father’s new wife is played by Anita Mui, who would have been Wong’s stepmother even though the actress was almost ten years younger than Jackie Chan.

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On Spanglish (2004)

Book coverI tried to lure my boys into watching a film with their old man (is that a slur or just slang? In the 21st century, it depends upon not so much the word nor the intent but how someone feels about it) by watching an Adam Sandler film, but they didn’t bite, which is just as well. This is not a comedy despite what the box nor blurbs say. This is one of the films where Adam Sandler is trying to turn into a dramatic actor as Tom Hanks did, but Hollywood and audience are still not letting him do it.

He’s not even the main character in the film: That’s Flor, played not by Salma Hayek. I am probably to be condemned for confusing Selma Hayek with Spanish actress Paz Vega, but I confuse a lot of people for others for reasons unknown and for reasons inscrutible to others (apparently, Heather Newman does not sound like Mary Chapin Carpenter and so on). Flor is a Mexican woman left by her man with her daughter. She comes to the United States (although not said explicitly, illegally is implied). She finds work as a maid/nanny for a wealthy family, including a famous chef (played by Sandler), a shrewish striving wife (Tea Leoni–has she ever played a character that did not annoy me? The Family Man, maybe?), a dumpy daughter, and an alcoholic mother in law (Cloris Leachman). The wife takes an interest in Flor’s daughter, buys her things, takes her to a salon day, gets her into the daughter’s private school–to Flor’s dismay and discomfort, her daughter starts behaving like the rich Americans. Flor does nice things for the family and gets closer to them, including moving into their vacation home during their vacation with her daughter, and she learns English. When the wife cheats on the husband, who has been busy preparing for a meal serving an influential critic and getting all his stars as well as having a subchef threaten to leave the restaurant–well, throughout, the husband and Flor grow close, but when the wife cheats, the husband cooks for Flor in the restaurant, they share a moment, but Flor leaves, and the husband seemingly goes to reconcile with his wife as Flor and the daughter leave them for good.

The film has a frame story of the girl, in voiceover, telling the story as part of her essay trying to get into Princeton and explaining how much she admires her mother. I’m not sure whether it adds to the film, and I’m not sure how much I really enjoyed the film or if I took any lessons from the film, but I suppose as I’m becoming a pre-Netflix Sandler completeist, I can cross it off the little checklist.

Below, in my defense, I have some pictures of Paz Vega so you can determine if she looks like Salma Hayek.
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On The Burbs (1989) / The Money Pit (1986)

Book coverThis is a two-pack of Tom Hanks comedies from the middle 1980s. Remember when Tom Hanks made comedies? Try explaining that to young men born in the 21st century. Ever since his back-to-back Academy Awards in 1993 and 1994, he’s pretty much been a serious actor. No cross dressing for laughs, as in television’s Bosom Buddies–I am pretty sure that show could not be made today at all, and I bet if I dug, he has probably retcontrited for forty-year-old humor. But I digress.

The Burbs tells the story of a man taking the week off from a high pressure job and just hanging out in his cul-de-sac when he begins to suspect his new neighbors are evil. With the help of a couple of neighbors, he investigates after a fashion and suspect the neighbors have killed another neighbor. They hijinkily try to prove that the neighbors have murdered him but not his little dog, but just as Tom Hanks’ character is about to accept that their intrusions and suspicions are causing more problems than they’re detecting, their suspicions are proven correct.

The movie has an all-80s-star cast, including Carrie Fisher as Mrs. Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Rick Ducommun (whose special I’d seen on Showtime and who would later appear in Groundhog Day as Gus), Henry Gibson (whose looks somewhat like Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate infame would have helped if only this film had not come out 8 years before that cult killed themselves), and Corey Feldman as the local teen who stands aloof and likes the show. It’s funny: The film came out in 1989, by which time we were living down the gravel road, so it is not one that I would have watched over and over on Showtime, although I think of it as such. However, we did have a movie poster for it, or rather a video store poster of it–a local video store would give us old posters, and we hung them on our walls, my brother and I. So perhaps I remember the poster of it and only later watched it over and over, perhaps at my father’s house when I was in college. And perhaps “over and over” is once or twice.

The film ultimately is a fairly stock indictment of living in the suburbs as viewed through people from either coast, but it’s not preachy or messagy, and it pokes a little fun at people, caricatures, who are solely defined by living in the suburbs.

I watched this film with my older son, who thought it was okay.

The Money Pit is actually an earlier film, but might be slight less remembered than The Burbs. In it, Hanks plays a record company/band management guy dating a woman in the symphony (Shelley Long) who is the ex-wife of a maestro (Alexander Godunov) whose apartment they’ve been living in. When the maestro returns suddenly from abroad, they have to vacate in a hurry. The pressure of finding housing leads them to a mansion outside New York City that is an amazing deal because the husband has just been extradited, and the old woman living there has to unload it in a hurry. When they move in, they find out that it needs a little more work than they’d been led to believe. Which leads them to having to deal with household disasters, contractors and their workers, and asking maestro for help. It tests the bonds of their relationship but ends well, of course–it’s a comedy.

The film is not as star-studded as The Burbs, but it does have Yakov Smirnoff in a small role, and the boys recognized Alexander Godunov from Die Hard.

You know, I am not sure that I’d seen this film all the way through before this time. I remember bits, probably from commercials on television when I was 12. What, fourteen? How do I remember things that recent?

At any rate, it’s amusing. Like The Burbs, it’s poking a bit of fun at the fixer upper house, the deal too good to be true, and dealing with contractors (whatever the question, whatever the job, it will be done in two weeks). However, in the intervening years, I suppose we’ve (I’ve) gotten a little sensitive to “What is this movie attacking?”

I started this film with both boys, but they both gave up before the midway point. Whether that’s a question of pacing, a question of adult concerns (home maintenance and improvement), or a question of whether they had pressing business on their important Internet games, I leave to you gentle reader.

However, the Internet has not made a debate about Carrie Fisher versus Shelley Long as your preferred dream partner, but I am here for you.

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On Highlander (1986)

Book coverBefore watching the Christmas movies (Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Invasion USA, and Lethal Weapon), I invited my boys to watch this film with me. I’d found it in the videocassette player, and asked them if they’d watched it already–but they had not. So I watched it, alone, as they’re too sophisticated for 80s B actioners now that they’re in their teens in the 21st century.

I actually watched the Highlander movies, including Highlander II: The Quickening, Highlander III: The Final Dimension (alternatively titled Highlander III: The Sorcerer with Mario van Peebles) and Highlander: Endgame which tied the movie to the television series, a couple years ago (a couple years being maybe two, five, or eight–as I was not writing movie reports at the time on this blog, I have no way to know). But I picked up fresher videocassette copies last July, so having new copies (well, new old copies) on the to-watch shelf means I have to watch them again.

Okay, you probably know the premise if you’re of a certain age: A Scotsman joins his clan in battle, but nobody fights him–a strange figure has said that he wants the Highlander for himself. But circumstances, and the need to make a full movie of it, means the dark figure does not best the Scotsman, who is seemingly killed. When he miraculously returns to life, he is run out of town as being the devil. Sean Connery appears to tell him he is an immortal of a special sort, and to explain the rules of The Game: He can only die if his head is lopped off, and the immortal who cuts off the head of another get his power or some such. When they come to a final reckoning in a strange land, one will emerge with the power to rule humanity.

So, yeah, you know, it doesn’t go a lot into the cosmology, which is probably for the best–the second film (The Quickening) kind of tries to retcon some weird, almost Scientological backstory on it, but other cuts of the film eliminate that in favor of just letting it ride. But that’s to come in the future.

The film was a disappointment at the box office, and it’s pretty clear why: It has more of a direct-to-video feel and look to it, but it’s since become a cult classic and clearly has spawned several other movies, television series, and books (including Highlander: Element of Fire, which I read eighteen years ago–equidistant in time between this movie and now).

But someone has been listening, whether it’s my boy’s phone or whatnot, but Facebook knows I’ve watched the film.

I’ve also gotten posts explaining that Christopher Lambert is very nearsighted and did not wear his glasses for filming, so the stunts and sword-fighting he did were that much more dangerous. So, yeah, someone knew I watched this film before you did, gentle reader. Perhaps they knew it before I did (which might have been asking if they’d already watched it since it was in the videocassette player). You think I’m mad? I WILL SHOW YOU MADNESS.

At any rate, although it has become a cult film, Highlander has not spawned any Brenda versus Heather Internet arguments.

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On Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)

Book coverQuick, what is the first comic book movie starring Chris Evans and Brie Larson? If you pick one of the Marvel movies, you’re mistaken–they both appear in this film based on a comic book series. I’d hoped that that would have come up on a trivia night the night after we watched this film, but it did not–2004 films fall into the dead zone of trivia these days. I might have a post for a later time about trivia nights in the 2020s, but that’s for another time.

In this film, Scott Pilgrim, a nebbish in Toronto, lives in a garage apartment with a gay roommate who is actually paying for everything. Scott is the bassist in a band called Sex Bob-omb. He’s 22, but he’s dating a girl in high school. And then he sees Ramona, the, well, not manic pixie girlfriend archetype but something simliar–the girl with the colored hair with a mysterious past and a jaded attitude. I mean, this was an archetype even when I was going to college a decade before the comic book appeared. To date her, he must defeat her seven evil exes he discovers. They include a Vegan bassist in the band fronted by Scott’s successful pop star ex, a professional-skateboarder-turned-actor, twin Japanese DJs, and a half-Ninja woman amongst others.

The film has a great look-and-feel that combines elements of film, video games, and comic books to great effect. The first time I watched it, it took me a couple of sittings to get through the movie, but I bought the soundtrack and have listened to it since. This time, I watched it with my oldest son, and we both enjoyed it.

And what’s not to enjoy with a cast like this?
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Thanksgiving Triple Feature

I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. Ours was a bit subdued as my beautiful wife and I came down with raging colds at the beginning of the week, so our guest list and our menu was curtailed, but we had turkey, cranberries, and stuffing (and will for days to come, as we bought a large turkey in anticipation of sharing it asynchronously if not in person. But no.

Instead of watching the three football games, I managed to spend the afternoon and evening on the couch with a trio of films.
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On Con Air (1997)

Book coverAlright, kids, I’m a bit late to this party. This film came out when I was twenty-five years old. I’d just met with a beautiful girl who would become my beautiful wife, but I also briefly reunited with a lovely young lady who would not. I was busy, you know. What’s that, gentle reader? The film came out the same year as The Man Who Knew Too Little, a Bill Murray film I saw in the cinemas with that woman I would claim (or would claim me). So this film came out in my cinema-heavy years, but I did not see it in the cinema or anywhere else for twenty-five years. Like Friday, a still from this film has become a meme–the one where Nicholas Cage steps off the bus and revels in what he thinks is his freedom (it’s early in the film). So that is probably why I picked it up relatively recently and why I watched it.

The plot: An Army Ranger leaves the service, but comes home and meets his pregnant wife at a bar (what, not the airport?). A he is a former hothead, when some bar denizens stalk the wife, he, Nicholas Cage, kills one of them in a fight and is sentenced to Federal prison (wut?) He is paroled after many years, but he’s put on a plane with really bad guys headed to a new Supermax prison. One of them is John Malkovich, which is always a bad sign. The bad guys take over the plane as part of a plot to free a member of a drug cartel (a la Die Hard 2), and although he has a chance to go free, Cage stays on board to try to help his diabetic cell mate find a hypodermic needle to deliver a needed dose of insulin before he goes into shock. Action set pieces and a plane crash and pursuit trash the Las Vegas strip. A bit over the top, but it was designed to be a blockbuster.

At the end of the day, I will probably confuse this film less with The Rock than I might have previously. The Rock was Nicholas Cage’s action blockbuster from the year before.

Facebook ads tell me that this is one of the most 90s films ever made. I think it’s not quite so tied to its decade, but its cast features a list of people whom you’d recognize:

  • Nicholas Cage
  • John Cusack
  • John Malkovich
  • Dave Chapelle
  • Danny Trejo
  • Steve Buscemi
  • Colm Meany
  • Ving Rhames
  • M.C. Gainey
  • Rachel Ticotin

So an all-star cast.

And did we mention Rachel Ticotin?
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On Blankman (1994)

Book coverI am pretty sure I picked up this film when I bought Friday, but I will be darned if I remember where I picked them up. At the antique mall? I have a couple of new movies atop my to-watch cabinets that are mixing with the “new” movies I bought last year and left up there. Face it: My to-watch movies are in worse shape than my to-read shelves, because even though I’m not reading as many books this year in years past, I’m certainly not watching any more movies. Maybe three in October, which is trending up. Some cinephile I am.

So, about this flick: It came out in 1994, which is last century, before America healed its racial divide by continuing to listen to racebaiters and electing one president (before sitting down to write this, I was presented with a Facebook adversomething with Dusty Baker lamenting that the World Series teams did not have an American-born black player, so look how far we’ve come, baby). In 1994, I would have thought that the characters were like me and my brother, but now in the 21st century, I think first that these guys are black, and maybe I am guilty of something for liking the film and wishing we could go back to the bad old days of the 1980s on racial relations.

Ah, but I cannot, but I defy them and liked the movie anyway.

In it, two brothers played by David Alan Grier and Daymon Wayans grow up with their grandmother. Grier becomes well-adjusted, grows to be a cameraman for a tabloid program, and Daymon Wayans becomes an inventor and tinkerer whose machines made from common devices are more humorous than groundbreaking. Their grandmother volunteers for a candidate for mayor running on an anti-corruption ticket, and when the candidate refuses to get in bed with a mobster, the mobster’s goons kill a bunch of volunteers, including the grandmother. Which leads the tinkerer, influenced by the Batman! television show of the 1960s, to become a crime fighter. Which draws the attention and admiration of a news anchor played by Robin Givens, whom the cool brother flirted with briefly.

So a bit of a love triangle ensues, and they go after the bad guys, and some set pieces, and resolution, and….

All right, it’s not Oscar material, but it’s akin to the stuff we gorged on in the 1980s, whether it was direct-to-video or direct-to-cable or disappointing box office (full disclosure: I saw Wild Thing on Showtime many, many times, and I enjoyed it).

And, I mean, even, uh, a couple years from its original release date, I still relate to the awkward nerd character who gets the girl. Before this film came out, I wrote a couple chapters on a teen who has gadgets and becomes a super hero (White Knight, not likely to be released in my every-couple-of-years self-publishing attempt at relevance). So it harmonically resonates with me, and even if “Rotten Tomatoes” hates it, I do not.

Also, the film had Robin Givens, whom I remembered from the nerd-friendly Head of the Class.
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On Friday (1995)

Book coverI must have seen this film right after it came out, maybe twenty-five years ago. On one of my trips to Milwaukee in my post-collegiate life, my friend Brian rented it from a video store when I was staying with him, and we watched it along with…. Well, I forget what. The first time I watched it, I was, what, 23 years old, working a retail job probably, and probably having bounced around a couple of times. A couple years out of the house down the gravel road, a couple years out of the trailer park, and a decade out of the projects there in Milwaukee, watching it with a friend in his small apartment just out of downtown Milwaukee, I related better to the main characters played by Ice Cube and Chris Tucker. Of course, I would have been the Ice Cube character and my friend would have been a smoke-free version of Chris Tucker, although I guess he was more of the straight man to my antics at the time.

At any rate, the film depicts life in South Central LA without a whole lot of gangsta, although there is some of that. Ice Cube plays Craig, who is fired from a job on his day off, and his friend Smokey, a pot dealer who has consumed the pot he was supposed to sell. They spend the day with Craig chasing a local girl, being broken up with by his current too-good girlfriend, and interacting with local characters and their family members. When the drug dealer, Big Worm, makes an ultimatum that they repay his $200 by tonight, they have to try to come up with that money, which leads to a burglary and other things more akin to hikinks than true crime.

I guess I had a hankering to see this film again because Severian often uses a photo of Big Worm on his posts and because “Bye, Felisha” kind of rattles around the Internet, or at least blogs I read, as a general dismissal.

But those intervening years have changed me. I’m no longer that young man, nor close to him, so I identify more with the parents in the film, especially the father–who has a job and supports his family and tries to give advice to his son who does not appreciate it.

So an interesting cultural artifact, and not a bad story. No boobies, but lots of doobies, so I’m not sure whether it would be appropriate for my teenagers, but this is the 21st century, and Missouri will be voting in November whether to basically legalize marijuana. So perhaps this movie was prescient as to where our society was going.

At any rate, it would not be a movie report if I did not feature one of the actresses, so let’s look at Nia Long, who played Debbie.
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So, Basically A Premake Of Xanadu

Hannah K. at Stuff Nobody Cares About posts Rita Hayword in Down to Earth, summarized thusly:

To say Down To Earth (1947) has a bizarre plot-line is an understatement. The goddess Terpsichore comes down from the heavens to earth when she finds out there will be a Broadway play about Greek mythology. She then gets a part in the play and suggests changes to the producer.

Sounds similar to the plot of Xanadu. Well, close enough. I guess I’m not the first to say it–People magazine made the point in 2015.

And probably worth a watch. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Rita Hayworth movie. For someone who thinks of himself of a fan of old movies, I am really light on seeing films from some of the biggest stars. I just plead that they had fifty years of moviemaking before I was born, so Hollywood got quite a head start on me.

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On Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010)

Book coverI bought this film recently on one of my antique mall splurges or at the Lutherans for Life garage sale. As it was on the top of the stack–which, in this case, means atop the old cabinet that holds our video games now that the old repurposed stereo that formerly could hold all of my unwatched videos is too full for any more–as I was saying, as it was on top of the cabinet, it took some precedence over the things behind the glass that formerly protected probably a sweet hi-fi thirty or forty or fifty years ago. But on a recent boyless night, I popped it in.

So: It’s a Chinese film from 2010. Chen Zhen served in a Chinese contingent in World War I (although they did not number it that then), but he returns home and, in the 1930s, ends up in Shanghai. He takes on a role at a nightclub and works to antagonize the Japanese who are moving in as he serves in the resistance. Of course, previously, he had beaten one of their dojo’s students (to be explained later), and there’s an element of revenge for the Japanese bad guy, the son of the previously beaten sensei.

As an actioner, it’s not bad. Direct-to-video quality. But as a cultural artifact….

You know, gentle reader, ever since I dabbled into Sinophilia, I’ve found source material from the middle of the twentieth century on to be suspect, so I’ve had to wonder. In this film, which is subtitled, we’ve got soldiers running away identified in the subtitles as French, and we have men on the take identified as British, but, c’mon, man: in the IMDB entry, we have only actors identified as American soldier.

Alright, so they’ve hidden within the subtitles that the bad guys are the Americans.

So the hero who rises above his station to malign the British French Americans wears a cap and mask like Kato from The Green Hornet. And Jet Li in The Black Mask. And this film borrows a bit from Casablanca, not om the least in its dueling songs–Chinese songs versus a Japanese song–early on.

And from whence is Chen Zhen returning? Well, the character was originally played by Bruce Lee in 1972’s Fist of Fury–this is where Chen Zhen tears up the Japanese dojo to avenge his sensei. Then, it appeared in a couple of sequels. Then, Jet Li played the character in 1994’s Fist of Legend (Li would also play Zhen’s teacher in 2006’s Fearless). So the endless cycle of reboots and sequels to a particular character, with some continuity and some discarded elements, is not an exclusively American thing.

So, as I said, it’s an okay martial arts film, but more interesting as a cultural artifact. And something to make one feel superior to one’s peers–watching foreign films with subtitles–as long as one does not consider that martial arts films are not European art house films.

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On Double Indemnity (1944)

Book coverI know, I know; it’s taken me how long to see this film whose screenplay was written by Raymond Chandler? This long, gentle reader, this long. So the real Chandler fans amongst you can titter behind your hands. I don’t know why it took so long; I guess it had been until now that I’d found it inexpensive for sale, or until recently that I was in the mood for a black and white noir film.

C’mon, you know the plot (based on the book by James M. Cain). An insurance agent becomes enamored with the wife of a businessman, helps her take out an insurance policy on him, and then helps with his murder. The insurance agent is played by Fred MacMurray, known to most of us as the father in My Three Sons twenty years later (and, to be honest, known to us because My Three Sons was in syndication a decade after that). My source (Wikipedia) indicates this was playing against type for MacMurry. Barbara Stanwyck plays the femme fatale, and MacMurray’s Neff comes to learn this might not have been her first time around. The film is told in flashback, as Neff gives his report to the claims inspector, his mentor, who’s on the trail.

So it’s black and white, and it’s noir, and it’s grim, but it’s all good. I enjoyed it.

Did someone say Jean Heather? No? Well, forget Barbara Stanwyck; Jean Heather played the stepdaughter.

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On Fun with Dick and Jane (2005)

Book coverThis film is a seventeen-year-old remake of a 1970s film. It comes from that turn-of-the-century period where Jim Carrey made some midling comedies (Liar, Liar and Yes Man come to mind) amidst his more dramatic and then kid’s movie roles. So it might get lost in that in-between period.

At any rate, Jim Carrey plays Dick Harper, a communications professional working for a large corporation. He gets promoted to Senior Vice President by his bosses, including the CFO and the CEO (played by Alec Baldwin). He’s thrown into the lion’s den by abruptly being shoved into an appearance on a cable news show where he’s confronted with suspicious behavior of the CEO, and as he (Harper) flounders, the stock tanks. The company shuts down amidst great scenes of shredding (a la Enron). As he was promoted, he encouraged his wife, played by Téa Leoni, to quit her job and make big plans for his new large salary.

Out of work, he looks for a job but finds it hard to get a job of equal stature (shades of Executive Blues: Down and Out in Corporate America. So we get some scenes of interviews, followed by slumming by working briefly at a thinly veiled Walmart and working as a day laborer as their furniture, landscaping, and eventually home are repossessed. Carrey ends up with a toy gun, and that inspires him to turn to a life of crime with his wife as his co-conspirator.

It leads to a number of scenes where they commit crimes. When they spot the CFO, they grab him and plot a heist against the CEO, which is the climax of the film. Hey, I can’t know heist comedies, now, can I?

Amusing in spots, but like Executive Blues, it lacks imagination in the change in circumstances. But at least in this case, it’s for comedic effect, even though it stretches credibility.

So were I to give stars, I’d give two and a half out of four or three out of five.

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Another Movie Quiz

On the Ace of Spades HQ Overnight Thread last night, I saw a link to this listicle: 50 Bad Movies That Are Absurdly Fun to Watch, so I thought, well, how many of them have I seen?

The films I have seen in bold:

  • 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
  • The 6th Day (2000)
  • Airborne (1993)
  • Armageddon (1998)
  • Bee Movie (2007)
  • Book Club (2018)
  • The Boy Next Door (2015)
  • Collateral Beauty (2016)
  • Dune (1984)
  • Excalibur (1981)–I might have seen this; I have certainly seen parts of it on HBO the same time I saw Xanadu as our friends had HBO
  • Exit Wounds (2001)
  • Fear (1996)
  • The Fifty Shades of Grey franchise (2015-present)
  • Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
  • Gods of Egypt (2016)
  • The Greatest Showman (2017)
  • Hackers (1995)
  • The Happening (2008)
  • The Holiday (2006)
  • Home Again (2017)
  • Jade (1995)
  • Jingle All the Way (1996)
  • John Carter (2012)
  • Jupiter Ascending (2015)
  • Limitless (2011)
  • Mac and Me (1988)
  • Mamma Mia! (2008)
  • Meet Joe Black (1998)
  • National Treasure (2004)–Last week!
  • The Net (1995)
  • Over the Top (1987)
  • Party Monster (2003)
  • Rambo 3 (1988)
  • Road House (1989)
  • The Room (2003)
  • The Running Man (1987)
  • Season of the Witch (2011)
  • Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)
  • SPF-18 (2017)
  • Spider-Man 3 (2007)
  • Sucker Punch (2011)
  • St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
  • A Talking Cat!?! (2013)
  • Timecop (1994)
  • Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
  • Virtuosity (1995)
  • Waterworld (1995)
  • What Women Want (2000)
  • White House Down (2013)
  • xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

Well, 30%, although I would argue that some of the films on this list are not bad at all.

I will leave it to your imagination, gentle reader, to wonder how many of these films I have seen in the theater during their runs. Know you that the number is greater than 1.

Also, I cannot help but note that the oldest film on this list is from 1985, and most of the films listed are from the 21st century, which leads one to believe that the person who wrote it is young and threw in a couple of big budget movies from before the writer’s birth to acknowledge that not everything has taken place in the last fifteen years.

But if you don’t have a bad black-and-white William Shatner movie like Incubus or even a color one like Kingdom of the Spiders on the list, is it really the best bad movies? No Hell Comes to Frog Town? No Revenge of the Wasp Woman?

Child, please.

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On National Treasure (2004)

Book coverOh, I have come to a place where I think of movies that are almost twenty years old as “recent.” I mean, this film came out when this blog was but a year old, when I was only a bit past thirty and probably didn’t even think about having children. So, yeah, this film came out two lifetimes ago, but it seems like not that long ago.

Okay, so this is Nicolas Cage as a modern Indiana Jones. He has been searching for the treasure of the Knights Templar since he was a boy and his grandfather told him the story. Thirty years later, Benjamin Franklin Gates (that is, Nick Cage) is a treasure hunter, and he is leading an expedition to the Arctic to look for a ship that holds a clue to the location of the treasure. They find a pipe whose inscription says that a map is on the Declaration of Independence–which is about as much of the movie as I could have told you before watching it (the Declaration of Independence is a treasure map). So the crime boss funding the expedition, played by Sean Bean, wants to steal it, but Gates balks, leading to a dissolution of their partnership. When Gates and his computer hacker/comic relief sidekick are rebuffed by authorities, they decide to steal it before Sean Bean can. And when they do, they follow the clues and hope to find the treasure, with the crime boss incredibly just a step behind them–and sometimes ahead of them.

So, yeah, well, it’s an actioner, so one should not expect too much from it, but it seems like lighter fare than the action movies when I was young. But, you know what? I’ve been watching some of those older movies, and they don’t have a whole lot of depth to them. If I’m looking for depth, perhaps I should re-weight my evening leisure to reading books, and not just men’s adventure paperbacks. Which this kind of resembles, actually.

But it was one of the few films lately that I watched with my boys, so I have that going for me. Although at least one of them had already seen it. As my beautiful wife has gotten a family NetFlix account so that my oldest could binge-watch Breaking Bad after her mother shared the first episode with the lad (and she a former English teacher, too), I am at risk of falling far behind on movie watching and pop cultural awareness so I must keep watching films. Besides, my to-watch cabinet is full, and I’ve taken to placing my recent video acquisitions atop the entertainment cabinets, which looks kinda junky. So my recent movie watching is actually housekeeping. Which is why I shall end this brief musing here and go watch a movie.

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On All The Conan Movies

Book coverBook coverBook cover

So over the week that my boys were at camp and at the National Youth Gathering for non-perch-handling Lutherans, I took a moment to review the major Conan movies, including:

  • Conan the Barbarian (1982)
  • Conan the Destroyer (1984)
  • Red Sonja (1985)
  • Conan the Barbarian (2011)

All right, Red Sonja is not a Conan movie, but it could have been. It is a De Laurentis sword and sorcery flick with Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s name above the titles and above Brigitte Nielsen’s name.

To be honest, I have seen Red Sonja most of the films, as it was on Showtime in that era where I was young, bored, and not supposed to leave the trailer during the day when my mother was at work. So if it was on Showtime in those mid-1980s summers, I saw it a bunch, and Red Sonja qualifies. Secondarily, I have seen the first Conan the Barbarian several times, and Conan the Destroyer. It was the first time I’d seen the Jason Mimosa Conan the Barbarian–I remember when it came out that it was presented as being pretty brutal and not being too interested in seeing it.

So:

In Conan the Barbarian, young Conan sees his father and mother killed before him when a raiding party strikes their undefended village, and he is taken as a slave. He grows up, becomes strong from his labor, and then ends up as a gladiator traveling with Mongol-types, still a slave, until he is released. He flees to a dead area where he finds Mako playing a sorcerer of questionable ability and seeks his revenge on the leader of the band who killed his family and razed his village, Thulsa Doom played by James Earl Jones. Of course, the man is now the leader of a spreading cult of snake-handlers. Oh, and Sandahl Bergman plays Valeria, a fighter-thief that Conan loves.

So it’s a pretty good bit of sword-and-sorcery low fantasy, with magic and whatnot, and it’s the most memorable of the films because, c’mon, man, James Earl Jones turns into a giant snake, and the film has the “What is best in life?” line. It opens and closes with Mako saying it’s but one of Conan’s many adventures.

In Conan the Destroyer, Conan is given a quest to escort the virgin niece, played by Olivia d’Abo, of a queen who is destined to restore the horn of a sleeping god. So Conan and a thief start off with the girl and her bodyguard, played by Wilt Chamberlain. They rescue Mako and a female warrior, played by Grace Jones, from a hostile tribe and they go do some sidequests and then the main quest and discover they’ve been played, and the queen is going to sacrifice the virgin to resurrect the god. So Conan has to slay the tall bodyguard and then the resurrected god.

You know, I might have only seen this twice: Once when I recorded the films onto a DVR and this time. It certainly did not stick with me.

In Red Sonja, a young woman watches her family killed before her for rejecting an evil queen (played by Sandahl Bergman). Left for dead, she prays for vengeance and a magickal figure offers her assistance. And Sonja goes to a monastery to learn to fight with sorta-Buddhists. The same evil queen and her henchmen attack another cult who are about to destroy a talisman called the Talisman that is too powerful for humans. They succeed, leaving only Sonja’s sister to escape and tell Sonja she must plunge it into darkness. So Sonja does some sidequests, dodges and declines Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s offers of help (but he shows up time and again to save the day). Then they storm the castle and save the day.

You know, for having watched the film over and over again thirty-five years ago, I remembered very little about the plot and the action in it. Maybe it will stay with me, but maybe not. Although I own the DVD now and can watch it again before three decades pass.

In Conan the Barbarian, the leader of a raiding band is looking for the parts of a magic mask that grant the wearer great powers. The Cimmerian tribes broke the mask when resisting the last guy to wear it, and they’ve hidden the pieces across Hyboria. Conan’s father is a blacksmith and war leader for their tribe, and this particular film develops the relationship between the father (played by Ron Perlman) and the young Conan. So he lives longer than a parent in the other films or your typical Disney film. But when the bad guy comes to town with his creepy (probably supposed to be Goth hot) daughter, they slaughter his family and take the last piece. But they need a woman of pure blood to sacrifice, which leads them to a monastery. The pureblood woman, played by Rachel Nichols escapes, and Conan captures her/defends her from an ambush and uses her as bait to draw the warlord to him for revenge.

You know, the other three movies are brightly colored and maybe just a touch orange in hue, but the latter film is very darkly colored, with the modern deep blue palette and with a lot of scenes taking place in the darkness or dimly lit areas. It was a little less pleasant to look at.

And as far as the brutishness goes, I guess the Jason Mimosa was supposed to play the character a little more coldly than the Schwarzeneggar version, but to be honest, it’s not that much different. And as for the blood and gore, it’s probably about as shocking as Conan the Barbarian would have been in the early 1980s. The earlier film had decapitations and whatnot, and this film has gouts of blood. I have previously discussed the 80s R and how different R-rated movies from that halcyon era were from R-rated movies today. I think that the brutality and special effects on display in the latter Conan the Barbarian reflect more what our era expects–after all, my kids play video games with gouts of blood erupting now, and that’s something we didn’t have because an Atari 2600 could not capture it.

Oh, yes, and I know, it’s not Jason Mimosa, but I’m going to call him that until he beats me at solo unarmed combat. Of course, I have been practicing saying, “I’m sorry, Mr. Mamoa,” without moving my teeth so I can do it with my jaws wired shut. But then I will probably call him Jason Meowmeow because I never learn.

So, to sum up: It was an interesting review of the material, and it made me wish they made 80s sword and sorcery films today. But they made them then, and I have DVD and videocassette players and spares of each, so I should be able to accumulate and watch the old movies.

It reminded me that it had been eight years(!) since I read the Conan stories (The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Bloody Crown of Conan, and The Conquering Sword of Conan). I used to read a lot of this kind of pulp sword-and-sorcery stuff, but I have not in a while. I don’t know if they make much of it any more, or if it’s just not sold widely enough to end up at used book sales–or if it’s that I have not haunted the paperback fiction sections of said used book sales.

But I did get to thinking, how would the Conan saga played out if Robert E. Howard had not killed himself at 30. He could have feasibly lived until the 1970s or 1980s, writing the whole time and maintaining a tight degree of control on his work and characters. Would that have altered the arc of the availability of the characters’ rights for comic books and films? One cannot know.

Oh, and did someone say “Sandahl Bergman?”
Continue reading “On All The Conan Movies”

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On National Lampoon’s Black Ball (2003)

Book coverThis film is labeled “National Lampoon’s,” but it was a British film and not an American film. So any connection to the National Lampoon franchises or brand is negligible, which is kind of unfortunate, as I was going to speculate on whether National Lampoon films were kind of lampooning films of certain genres with their entries in the field, but unfortunately, it would appear that they just rented out the name for the money. And not enough, as a (full disclosure) investor in National Lampoon Media Partners (NLMP) would tell you (because the investment has not panned out, but at least it was not a big of a loss in my portfolio as Salon).

Ah, where were we before I started thinking of my 25 years of investing, which has pretty much broken even?

Oh, yes, this film.

All right, if you wanted to see a Happy Gilmore style movie, but instead dealing with bocce, I’m sorry, bowls (which is apparently the British spelling of bocce) instead of golf, this is the movie for you. Actually, it doesn’t have the Happy Gilmore story arc–this film follows more of the rock star arc where a humble man becomes famous, the fame goes to his head, but he redeems himself after alienating those most important to him.

A guy from the British projects plays bowls, a lawn game where you try to roll a ball close to a target ball, and you can knock the other team’s balls off away and into a gutter. So it’s remarkably like the bar game with the disks or even cornhole in that regard. He wants to play for the English team to take on the international stars, a pair of Australian brothers. So he gets to play in a local tournament/match/Ascot or whatever they call them in Britannia against the local reigning champion (played by James Cromwell, most recently notorious for a silly Starbucks hand-gluing) who has never aimed higher (to play for the national team, for example). He wins, but he writes a British bad word on his opponent’s scorecard, so he gets banned from the sport on a technicality. A splashy American agent (played by Vince Vaughn, not just phoning it in) convinces him to sign with him, and they make a splashy show out of bowls with the new Bad Boy of Bowls. Throw in an obligatory forbidden romance with the daughter of the local champion, a reconciliation of sorts, and a teaming of the two bowlers to face the Australian brothers (and a sudden death final point that looks an awful like Dodgeball), and finis!

Not a whole lot of laughs in it–to be honest, I liked it better when I was watching it and thinking it was an American film lampooning films like this and not the straight comedy it actually was.

But I am thinking about stopping by Academy Sports to pick up a set of bocce balls. Which would be interesting here at Nogglestead, as the ground slopes from north to south and has furrows from where water has run and where old fences stood. So it’s not likely to be the manicured greens of actual bocce courts.

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On Death Race (2008)

Book coverI spent a little of the time that the boys were away at camp and at their church youth group gathering watching R-rated movies such as this one, which features Jason Statham as a former racecar driver framed for the murder of his wife and incarcerated on Terminal Island, a privately owned prison where convicts are given a chance to participate in a pay-per-view livestreamed Death Race, where they race on a course in cars modified with armor and weapons and try to kill one another on the track.

So, basically, it’s The Running Man combined with Car Wars.

The film opens with a race wherein a driver named Frankenstein is pursued by another driver called Machine Gun Joe. Frankenstein is in the lead, but his defensive weapons malfunction, but he still thinks he can win the race. His navigator/weapons officer, a female con named Case and played by Natalie Martinez, ejects just as the car blows up.

Statham, I mean, Jensen Ames, his character who is totally unlike The Transporter, is given the Frankenstein mask to wear and is told that if he wins the single race, he will be freed, but he figures out the con–Frankenstein will always not win that last race, and if the current Frankenstein dies, the warden will just get a new one. He also suspects that Case might be a part of it. So he makes a plan to escape with the help of Machine Gun Joe–Frankenstein’s hated enemy.

Okay, so it was the kind of midling action flick that you’d find on cable back in the day, but with a special effects budget that allowed just a touch of gore. Not bad, not disturbing, but there for its own sake. Not a lot of character development, but a lot of action.

So worth it for Jason Statham fans or if you’ve got a couple hours to spend whilst your kids are out of the house and you can watch R-rated movies. But perhaps the most telling rating for the film is that I watched a Jason Statham movie, and I shaved the next day. I’ve mentioned that Statham movies like Safe have led me to try the stubble look for a while, but although I wore it a while last year (even after I said it ended–I wore stubble and a short beard into the autumn and early winter this year, actually). But this one did not.

Oh, and did someone say “Natalie Martinez”?

Continue reading “On Death Race (2008)”

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