Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Kaiju Kavalcade #1: GOJIRA (1954)/GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ tumblr Rocket Number 09, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

TRAVIS:

Like many great horror films, Toho Company’s first monster movie was created from the societal fears of the time and the latest box office trends. Not only was Japan still reeling from the aftermath of nuclear destruction brought on by World War II, but a commercial fishing ship (ironically named Lucky Dragon 5) was unknowingly affected by radiation when the United States tested their hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean. When crew members started to become sick (with one eventually dying), the country was caught in another nuclear panic, worried that any contaminated fish was now in the market. Meanwhile at the movie theaters, sci-fi monster flicks such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms were drawing in the big bucks. A successful re-release of King Kong also spurred Toho to pursue a creature feature of their own. With history and box office perfectly aligned, Gojira was born.

Those used to the colorful kaiju wrestling matches of Megalon and Gigan may be surprised to find that Godzilla’s first film was a somber, cautionary tale. Opening with a recreation of the Lucky Dragon 5 incident, Japan is soon faced with nuclear annihilation in the form of Gojira, a prehistoric dinosaur now re-awakened and irritated by radioactive warfare. The horrors of World War II are brought back to life as buildings and casualties are left behind in smoldering rubble. In the middle of the chaos is a weepy love triangle between Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada), his girlfriend Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kochi), and her arranged husband-to-be Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata). It’s from this conflict that Dr. Serizawa finally decides to use his underwater Oxygen Destoryer weapon, killing Godzilla and Serizawa in a noble sacrifice to protect the secrets of his invention.

Though it’s the most different in tone from any of the other movies, this is my all-time favorite Godzilla film. The monster destruction scenes have an almost documentary feel (perhaps benefitting from director Ishiro Honda’s army service during WWII). Was this why the big G sparked my imagination when I was little? Aside from some crummy PBS specials, this would’ve been the first time my dino-addled brain viewed a “real” dinosaur. This was also the movie that sparked my young interest in horror. I can remember researching Godzilla material in the library and uncovering the likes of Frankenstein, the Blob, and other monsters in the process. I guess the big guy started my long path into geekery, so much so that I’m now writing a whole series of reviews about his films.

Luca, it’s obvious what this movie meant to me, but what did you think of it as kaiju newcomer?

LUCA:

It certainly lived up to its somber reputation! I'd heard from plenty of people that the original was not a goofy man-in-suit wrestling match the name "Godzilla" conjures up in most people's minds, but holy crap was I ever unprepared for just how dour it would get -- especially for a fifties movie! There's a scene in TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON where Decepticons are randomly blasting passers-by, specifically targeting defenseless humans, which, in the context of a Michael Bay movie, comes across as gleefully unhinged sociopathy from a director who's chained to a franchise he's long since stopped caring about. In GOJIRA, the titular creature does the exact same in one harrowing shot of some poor Tokyo residents, and the result is... well, slightly different. For the entire duration of the movie up to that point, it seems like "the people" have been the main character. "When will we get more information?", some lady asks about the faux Lucky Dragon crew (this movie taught me -maru is a popular suffix to Japanese boat names). "The people should be informed!!!" another lady shouts at the Gojira press conference. Yes, there's Professor Yamane, Emiko and Ogata, but shit, they honestly don't even get that much screen time. If you'd pull a revisionist Lucas/Spielberg-style title change on this first one for a box set, I think the most appropriate title would be "Godzilla vs. The People of Japan". The constant push-and-pull is between them and Gojira.

I did not know that about the successful re-release of KING KONG in Japan. KK vs. G is one of the series' most famous outings, I think, but if you compare the '33 KONG and this movie, they're nothing alike at all. Kong is a lovesick brute, an eminently relatable near-human who gets a few hours of rampage in when he reaches civilization before THU MAN puts him down. Gojira is this unknowable thing from the sea. It has no personality. It has no motivation. It just appears, destroys everything and fucks off back into the water because... it's bored? People talk about Carpenter's End of the World trilogy being the most successful unofficial Lovecraft adaptations of all time; I'd make a case for GOJIRA being a pretty good depiction of the awakening of a Lovecraftian Elder God. Honestly, I wish they'd just cut out all the stuff about him being a previously unknown missing link dinosaur/marine reptile from "two million years ago". It makes all the movie scientists look dumb, and it would have added to the scary factor of Gojira himself! Coulda just kept him the Oto Island legend that's mentioned by the fishermen, I say!

Here are some things that didn't work for me. After a really effective 15-20 minutes of build-up (the lost fishing ships, the "hurricane" that hits Oto Island), Honda kind of screws the whole thing up by having Godzilla look into the camera like O HAI. I'm talking about the first reveal of his head, where, after the alarm bell tolls, the villagers rush into the hills and see these reptilian plates stirring behind a ridge. Shock and terror abounds, of course. Next shot, Godzilla stupidly staring them all in the face all herpaderp. Tragically, the villagers rush up the hill to find Godzilla gone. They look at a great matte painting of gigantic footprints going into the water, with the imprint of a tail dragged between them. If they'd just gone from Godzilla's plates to everyone being shocked (I mean, just seeing those would mean the thing's as big as a mountain), going to check it out and seeing the footprints leading into the sea. First full Godzilla reveal would be postponed to his nightly raid on Tokyo Bay, accompanied by his awesome theme music. Just one trim, Honda! The movie also isn't too interested in the love triangle between Emiko, Ogata and Serizawa. Serizawa in particular gets such a haphazard introduction, I felt like they could have just combined his character with Yamane, since the love triangle is pretty useless to the proceedings anyway. Hagiwara the reporter just casually drops that Serizawa and Emiko are betrothed long after the audience meets the three of them, which is pretty weird! The movie had totally established Ogata and Emiko as boyfriend and girlfriend with no mention of Emiko being spoken for whatsoever. When Serizawa is mentioned, he's just "that loner" who's been "working on his research in solitude for years". You'd think they'd want to have the audience know that hey, Emiko's promised to someone else, namely this guy Emiko and her boyfriend are talking about right the fuck now. The Yamanes are pretty loose with family affiliations anyhow, since they appear to adopt newly-made Oto Island orphan Shinkichi off-screen, without any familial bonds to him whatsoever. Travis, am I being a terrible nitpicker?

TRAVIS:

I don’t think you’re being nitpicky at all! I like that you noticed how strong the human element was in this movie. Ishiro Honda always had an interest in human drama and how large events affect the everyman. This is why many of his Godzilla films have the most developed character plots aside from all the monster smashing. I will admit that the love triangle unfolds a little haphazardly, and its inclusion is only there to add dramatic weight to Serizawa’s decision to use the Oxygen Destroyer. However, the scene where he burns his research while Emiko weeps over her betrayal is strong. Ahihiko Hirata gives him such anguish and pain as he wrestles with his choice, and his solemn look as his work is incinerated is truly sad.

I can understand your issue with Gojira’s reveal on Oto Island, but I think it’s still effective. His attacks on Oto and Tokyo occur at night, so having his first true appearance during the daylight is a nice contrast and shock. I will say that the puppet used in that scene is rather DERP face (all blank eyed and vampiric teeth). Maybe it would’ve worked for you better if the full body suit was used since it has an expressionless look. Also, I never ever thought of the Lovecraft connection! That’s pretty neat! I’ll disagree and say that I do like Godzilla’s connections to dinosaur/marine origins. The more mysterious mythology would’ve been tantalizing, but this movie is firmly rooted in Japan’s history. Not only are the monster’s roots created by the warfare of the time, but the tales of the past concerning dragons and whimsical stories of the sea make Gojira a creature created by years of culture.

What I also enjoy is how this is a film about World War II from the other side of the ocean. I’m not a scholar of foreign cinema, but it seems there aren’t many well-known Japanese movies that deal with the effects of the war. Of course the starkness of nuclear fallout permeates this movie, yet the fighting spirit of the nation comes through sometimes. Scenes of tanks and battleships rolling out to combat the menace are accompanied by a rousing orchestral march for instance. In addition, for a country that originated terms such as seppuku and kamikaze, Serizawa’s noble sacrifice might not be a surprise as it’s a brave choice (maybe even punishment?) for not allowing the Oxygen Destroyer to be used in warfare. The culture and times that influence Gojira make it fascinating to me. I know you had your issues, Luca, but was there anything you particularly enjoyed? Also, even though you’re new to this franchise, do you think this film is a good introduction for kaiju novices?

LUCA:

If there's one thing I can say I unequivocally like, it's Akira Ifukube's score. Holy moly, that Godzilla march! I've been humming it randomly for the past week! The opening credits with these DOOOM DOOOMMM drums, accompanied by Gojira's roar over a black screen. It absolutely demands your attention, and it's fantastic. As I said earlier, the build-up with the lost ships and the public's reaction (besides the derp puppet) was very strong to me also. Maybe it would have worked completely for me HAD they used the suit, cuz I didn't even realize they hadn't until you pointed it out. Despite my misgivings about the sketching of the human characters, I like very much that it's a humanist movie. I remember the complaints of TRANSFORMERS fans (sorry to keep bringing these up) regarding the overly large presence of humans in those movies, and wouldn't it be lovely to just have a film focused on the robots. I also vaguely seem to recall people calling for a "documentary style" monster movie without any focus on humans whatsoever. Now, I can understand that you don't want to spend time with Bay's horrible, sickening approximations of human beings, but GOJIRA firmly dispels the no-humans-needed theory. If the Big Daddeh of all monster movies basically has two, two-and-a-half monster rampages, with the rest of the movie being taken up by the country's reactions to them, what the hell are you complaining about that there are humans? Shit, one of my favorite moments of the movie was the airplanes being called in to bomb the shit out of Gojira and force him back into the water. I thought that was a real cheer moment! Fuck yeah Japan ain't taking this mass destruction shit anymore! I loved that Serizawa's final sacrifice wasn't mined for tension but rather drama. The reprise of the children's choir that spurred him to action makes it a great set piece. It also has one of my favorite Gojira shots in the movie -- the revelation that that underwater mountain is actually Gojira as he slowly turns around. Gojira is always fakey looking cuz, well, he's a guy in a suit, but the movie sells his threat so well that he's never lame looking. That's a real "we've stirred an angry god(zilla)" moment right there.

Unless there are obvious jumping-on points for newbies (and the volume of the thing is just too immense), or the quality before a certain point is just abominable, I'm the kind of guy who'd always tell people to jump in at the start if they're interested, so they can witness the evolution of it. For instance, if someone tells me "I want to have seen a Bond movie", I'll tell 'em to watch GOLDFINGER. If they tell me "I wanna get into Bond", I'd just say to start with DR. NO. Not as archetypal a Bond movie as GOLDFINGER, but certainly a decent movie, and it's interesting to me how these things evolve. Is GOJIRA an archetypal kaiju movie? I can't tell yet, but from what I've heard, it isn't. Anyone asking me to get into kaiju movies, however, I would definitely point them towards this movie, since it's such a wellspring of an entire movement. It's like someone asking to get into superhero movies and not give 'em Donner's SUPERMAN. Heck, even if someone asked me, what's a good entry point to straight-up Japanese cinema, I'd say there's something so quintessentially Japanese about this movie, I'd recommend it in a heartbeat. I will say though, that if I was asked for non-kaiju specific giant monster movies, I'd definitely go KING KONG first. GOJIRA is much more of a big bummer of a movie. Sure, KONG ends in tragedy while GOJIRA ends in victory, but there's no moment as terrible in KK as the mother in GOJIRA clutching her children as Tokyo burns, telling them "[they]'ll be with daddy soon".

Now that's all very tragic and terrible and stuff, but I think the one thing that really was missing for me to connect emotionally was a concerned-looking besuited white man with a pipe. Let's spare a few words for the baka gai-jin GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS!, released stateside in 1956, two years after GOJIRA hit Tokyo Bay. Despite adding Raymond Burr as the new protagonist, it manages to be about 15 minutes shorter (!) than the original movie. For US audiences, the Lucky Dragon Seven probably wasn't as dramatic a thing (if they even knew about it) as to Japanese audiences, so there's a framing story where Burr's character Steve Martin (haha) wakes up after Godzilla's second rampage and informs the DEAR READER that he is about to hear the most incredible, horrifying tale of all time! It's a tragic thing that people felt the addition of a white protagonist would be of the utmost importance to sell the movie overseas, since, well, it's such a quitessentially Japanese story, and Steve Martin doesn't even really DO much. He's there to provide a running commentary for audiences, but everything that's achieved against Godzilla is still done by the army and Serizawa. Ironically, the Steve Martin cut does mention Serizawa and his betrothal to Emiko far sooner than GOJIRA does, even before Emiko and Ogata are revealed to be a couple. If only the original had done this too! Travis, does the GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS offend/annoy you? Would YOU recommend this one to anyone seeking to get into kaiju movies as anything more than a funny aside, a sign of the times?

TRAVIS:

The American version is certainly a different type of monster (a hurr hurr). Unlike some fans though, I don’t think King of the Monsters is a bastardization of Gojira. Yes, the anti-nuclear message is diluted, but it doesn’t strike me as a result of jingoistic fears. What is a slow meditation of war is simply re-formatted into the atomic monster flicks of the hey day. There’s no denying that the dubbing and splicing of new scenes adds a bit of cheese to the film, but the US producers did a fine job of keeping the serious tone. This is largely successful due to Raymond Burr. He’s a spectator with an indulgence for melodramatic passages, yet his performance grounds everything in reality. You don’t get a sense of paycheck boredom or winking at the camera from him.

I’ll give kudos to the US producers also for leaving in grimmer aspects I would’ve expected to be cut. The hospital scenes of the injured and children suffering from radiation poisoning remain, as is the moment with the mother and her children cowering during Godzilla’s rampage (though her dialogue about meeting their father soon is excised). What maybe makes these parts less powerful is Burr’s constant narration. With that and opening the movie with him waking up from Godzilla’s attack (essentially making most of the movie a flashback), the film has the pace of a disaster flick countdown, making the destruction scenes play as more sensational. Again, for the action sci-fi spectacle they’re making, it works. Comparing it to the original Gojira….. cheeseburgers and sushi.

Perhaps I’m too kind to King of the Monsters since this version was the very first Godzilla movie I saw years ago with my Dad on that faithful cable viewing night. I’ll even argue that if it wasn’t for the US cut, we’d never have the big G as the worldwide icon he’d eventually become. Gojira’s a great film, but it’s a somber affair, and it would’ve remained a respected piece of Japanese cinema on its own. Whether fans like it or not, King of the Monsters made the monster palatable to Americans’ taste, at the right time when audiences were lining up for creature features. Luca, my heart has a place for both versions. What does your heart say?

LUCA:

It's telling me to eat less red meat and also that you're right! Raymond Burr actually IS pretty good in the lead role. He can't help it that his character has no effect on the story whatsoever. It actually uses so much of the main plot (and doesn't skimp on the gruesome details, miraculously) that you could interpet this not so much as a remake as an alternative telling. This American dude also witnessed the events of GOJIRA and here's his version. It's an interesting curiosity, but certainly not an offense -- or at least, not as offensive as it easily could have been. All the heroes remain Japanese characters. And hey, if this cut is the one that made all the goofy stuff happen, huzzah to KING OF THE MONSTERS!

Dear reader, I hope you had as much fun as we did, and perhaps learned as much as I! Join us again next time for GOJIRA RAIDS AGAIN and its American counterpart GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

KAIJU KAVALCADE #0: Introduction

Good friends! Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Rocket Number 09, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND! Take it away, Travis!

TRAVIS:

When I was little, my father handed down the monsters he once knew as a child.

This is how it tends to begin for many Godzilla fans. The warm memories of kaiju stomping and rumbling around become cultural milestones to kids as parents introduce them to the nostalgic movies they grew up with. For me, Dad made me stay up late (on a school night!) to watch Monster Vision on TNT with him. Like a lot of people, I generally knew what a Godzilla was, but not much else. However, after a night-long marathon of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla vs. the Thing, and Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, the big guy held a special place in my heart.

After all these years, things haven’t changed much. In fact, the giant plastic Godzilla toy given to me as a present from my Uncle still takes up residence in my bedroom. Another relic from my monster movie past is being stirred again as my excitement for the upcoming Gareth Edwards film brings up old memories of anxiously awaiting Roland Emmerich’s 1998 ‘Zilla. As you can probably tell, ol’ Gojira has been with me all my life, and I can’t wait to review and explore all twenty-nine films. The good, the bad. The serious, the cheesy. The Rodan, the Titanosaurus.

Even better is that I won’t be alone on this journey. Joining me on my geeked-out series is my friend and kaiju novice Luca Saitta from Wholly on the Level. Thanks for coming along, Luca, and how does it feel to begin your Godzilla experience?

 

LUCA:
Travis, I feel like a paratrooper about to deploy onto one of Godzilla's ridges!

Kaiju movies have been a pop cultural blind spot for me all my life. The first one I ever saw was 1991's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah on a BBC kaiju all-nighter meant to promote the release of Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla. I'm pretty sure it had QI's Phill Jupitus and maybe Jonathan Ross. I'm also very sure that by the time this Monster Night actually got around to showing the single kaiju movie on their schedule, it was around 2AM. Coupled with the fact that I haven't seen it since then, you might as well say I haven't seen it at all. I think the other monster was a two-headed dragon? Purposely not googling it so I go into this as fresh as possible!

Like with almost any kid born in the mid-80s, JURASSIC PARK hit that subconscious childhood sweet spot for me that only good dinosaur stuff can. I used to hear references to Godzilla (and Rodan, even!) on sitcoms and cartoons I watched, and it definitely sounded awesome. I just never had the opportunity to actually see any of them! Only later did I find out that all the fight scenes in my precious Mighty Morpin' Power Rangers were simply repurposed set pieces from Japanese kaiju vs. super robots kids shows, so I suppose I actually did catch quite some kaiju in a way. My remaining experience with the genre is limited to viewings of Emmerich's aforementioned catastrophe (which I quite liked as a kid, since it had a big JURASSIC PARK lookin' monster and that was enough for me to like things back then), and this year's PACIFIC RIM, which, I gotta admit, was a bit of a disappointment to me.

So, uh, one entry completely forgotten due to circumstance, two instances of "loved in childhood but probably best left there" and one fresh disappointment? I promise I'm still psyched about the concept in theory, Travis!

 

TRAVIS:
Great to hear! I’m very interested in hearing your opinions since it’s not often that Godzilla fandom starts later in life. As I said, a childhood spent in front of the TV watching monster movies is how it normally begins. Without these experiences, I’ve noticed that people (and even other geeks) find it harder to embrace the joys of King Caesar beating up on Mechagodzilla as an adult. Just too silly and stupid. Of course, you might think that soon too, which is why I’m glad you’re here to clear up my kaiju-tinted glasses.

What I’m also excited about is simply revisiting the Godzilla films I grew up with, many of them I haven’t seen in years. This will the first time I’ll be watching them chronologically too, so I hope that I can gain greater insight into the franchise and its changes over the years. For a character whose origins are as Japanese as sushi, Godzilla’s truly morphed into an icon for the world with almost McDonald’s-like ubiquity. He’s a fluid creature who can be a grim reminder of the past, a superhero for all kids, or a wild animal that’s provoked into being a savior or a threat. All the different angles to view and how he can be represented is going to make these reviews a treat.

Luca, what are your expectations for these films, and why choose Godzilla of all the cultural blind spots to tackle?

 

LUCA:
Godzilla is just so (no pun intended) huge! I just like exploring new things, and getting to understand the fascination behind them. Maybe I'll get to share in that love, maybe it'll remain purely academic, but either way I win! And, let's face it, I've done a RESIDENT EVIL retrospective on my blog, purely based on the fact that they'd somehow made five movies of something nobody actually cares about. You can imagine my excitement for Toho's monsters, which is a thing with actual pop cultural weight and a special place in the hearts of many!

As I understand it, Godzilla is a bit like Batman. Throughout the decades, different people and different social climates have reflected upon the big guy, resulting in a variation of takes, from the goofy to the gritty. Personally, I'm quite psyched to meet the Silver Age Adam West Gojira punching increasingly outlandish fellow monsters while the people on the ground are dressed in Beastie Boys Intergalactic jumpsuits!

 

I hope you, dearest readers, are equally excited about our little upcoming KAIJU KAVALCADE! Join us later this week, as we discuss the original 1954 GOJIRA and its baka gai-jin American version, 1956's GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS!

Friday, December 6, 2013

It’s Okay To Be Sad For A Famous Person’s Death

(Sorry for the picture, but this is not an actual obituary and it highly amused me in its internettiness.)

In the wake of Paul Walker and Nelson Mandela’s deaths, I’ve seen people’s reactions run the gamut from sad to angry to weirdly belligerent. Here’s a couple choice ones (paraphrased):

  • RIP guy in Paul Walker’s car… nobody gives a shit cuz he wasn’t famous!
  • Poor people die every day who cares about rich people!
  • Nelson Mandela died NOBODY BETTER DARE MENTION PAUL WALKER AGAIN
  • Old people die all the time so what if this one was a politician!!

Apparently, if you are too old or well-off, your death should not be mourned by anyone. Please keep this in mind should you decide to excel in your field or live a long, healthy life – we will turn on you like week-old milk, motherfucker!

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the people who just can’t wait to unload their grief on you. OMG I was cleaning the gunk outta my keyboard when I heard about Mandela I WILL NEVER FORGET or perhaps CRYING SO HARD RIGHT NOW I CAN NEVER LOOK AT A CAR THE SAME WAY AGAIN!1! Fuck these people too, is what I’m saying.

It’s okay to be bummed out. If you have an opinion on the matter, you’ve most likely heard of the deceased (I hope), which means your reaction is based on that. Perhaps you grieve, perhaps you laugh, perhaps you are unaffected either way. These are all valid responses. However, to criticize someone on expressing sadness* over the passing of someone they didn’t know personally is just an unnecessary projection of cynicism. I am not sad about this, so it is absolutely ridiculous that you should be! Also, this guy who died is more important than that guy who died! Also, this guy was old so you can’t be sad!

Nelson Mandela was a hero beyond the power of this blog to even describe, a man who changed history for the better in an immediate and dramatic way. Paul Walker was second banana in a bunch of gay car movies. My cold, logical brain says “One of these guys was a bigger deal than the other.” Here’s the rub though, guys. None of us are very long for this world. Plenty of us won’t live to see, say, 2050. I don’t know what, if anything, we’re supposed to fill our days with as we wile away the time until we are worm chow. My limited cognitive abilities say, “Good cheer, fun, love and all that good stuff!” To me, anyone who contributes to the happiness of others, in whatever small form, is someone worth celebrating. Let it be known, I am not equating both men’s achievements. Millions of people being enfranchised after decades of oppression does not measure up to a couple thousands getting a giggle out of “Pockets ain’t empty cuhhh”. Undoubtedly, Mandela outstrips Walker in this regard to about the same measure Oscar Wilde outstrips this blog. But they both, however huge the gap between their respective works, brought some manner of happiness to other people’s lives.

The world sucks, and not everyone can be a Nelson Mandela, or even a Paul Walker. But it undoubtedly takes less effort to simply not be an asshole on the internet for five minutes.

I promise I’ll return to shitty movie reviews soon!

*Exception of course to those who just want to showcase their FEELZ – the type of person who can’t deal with mid-season finales.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

THOR: THE DARK WORLD OF FUN

(sorry)

Due to a slight illness combined with schedule problems (I have those nowadays!) I wasn’t able to see MARVELDISNEY’S THOR: THE DARK WORLD in a timely enough fashion so as to provide you with a FIRST LOOK REVIEW before all the other decent blogs and sites did. But since you all like me so much, I thought I’d share some loose ramblings on the movie anyway.

THOR THE DARK WORLD A DISNEY/MARVEL COPRODUCTION is a sequel to both THOR and THE AVENGERS, a first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (henceforth referred to as MCU)!* In a LotR-meets-STAR WARS style prologue, we are told that our universe was preceded by a DARK MATTER universe, inhabited by DARK MATTER ELVES. But then their universe ended and was replaced by a regular matter universe, which they found really gross and started to fuck up with a red mist thingy called the Aether. King Bor of Asgard beat all the dark elves back, and their leader Malekith went into hiding right after secreting away the Aether (Earth duhh). This is all very reminiscent of the first THOR, only we’re gonna spend the movie cleaning up Bor’s poop rather than Odin’s. It doesn’t help that Malekith and his henchman Kurse seem to have absolutely zero personality. They don’t crack jokes, they’re not particularly superhateably evil, and they only look sorta cool. Why they even got a guy like Eccleston to play the villain is beyond me. If they’d gotten Derek Mears or someone, at least they could have cut back on stunt people.

Like many (all) other Marvel movies though, TTDW can coast on excellent actors with amazing chemistry. Let it once more be said how shitty the STAR WARS prequels were by comparing Natalie Portman performances. The Superhero Girlfriend is that classic modern leading lady paradox of a role in which any decent actress would probably not be interested but for the worldwide exposure and fat staxxx it provides. But Portman makes Jane Foster work! She’s funny and charming and intelligent and all that other shit that’s essential to and too good for the role at the same time.

So you can imagine what dynamite is delivered when good actors actually get something to chew on! Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are absolute superstars, owning their roles so effortlessly that their bickering ends up as meatier set pieces than the action scenes – which are great and inventive in their own right, a definite improvement from the first one.

I also liked that Skarsgard’s Erik Selvig has been pretty much turned into a nutty professor as superheroes in the silver age bumped into on a regular basis. If Thor is turned into a frog in Thor 3, it wouldn’t surprise me that it was due to professor Selvig’s new invention, the Amphibatron 5000.

There are actually SOME things to spoil, but none as great as IRON MAN 3’s Mandarin twist. Rather, there’s comedy stuff in there that’s so funny and out-of-nowhere I’d rather not mention it. Oh hell, I gotta: If someone could identify the recurring Xzibit song, that’d be great.

Bigger and more exciting than its predecessor, TTDW nevertheless retains all the heart the principals imbued in their characters but lacks a convincing threat. I’ve heard it argued that the villains’ blandness turns the focus to the family conflict of the Asgardian royals. Fair enough, as it IS the strongest part of the film, but it couldn’t have hurt to give them some funny bits then. Have Malekith sample some delicious [product placement] and declare the Dark Elves will spare this… VIMTO and bring it into the next glorious universe. TTDW ain’t perfect, but Phase 2 is… two for two as far as I’m concerned.** (sorry)

*IRON MAN THREE was only a sequel to AVENGERS cuz none of the characters remembered the events of IM2

**Mid-credits gag spoiler: a James Gunn-directed GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY tease is clumsily inserted into the mid-credits, against TTDW helmer Alan Taylor’s wishes. I liked its cheap and cheesy Star Trek: The Original Series look, but it clashes completely with the rest of the movie, and it just confused my audience. Marvel better get a REALLY commercial trailer out for this, or they’ll be coasting on old franchises for a while yet!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #27: STRANGER THAN FICTION

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

A lot of things that get labelled “indie” probably shouldn’t. How many people ever actually get to see “independent” movies, made outside of any major studio system, funded by well-meaning, scrappy filmmakers with something to say and the gumption to go out there and say it, by any means necessary? Well, they’d have to be really INTO CINEMA to see a lot of those. For most people, seeing “indie” movies consists of watching movies that do not have explosions in them and are slightly weirder or with a more off-beat central premise than your average romcom.

Marc Forster’s STRANGER THAN FICTION is a perfect example. Handsomely (and commercially) shot, spruced up with some occasional CGI for quirky asides, filled with movie stars looking slightly dowdier than in other movies or simply not doing their usual schtick, it epitomizes faux-indie. Will Ferrell plays tax auditor Harold Crick, a man so embedded in routine he has the route to work planned out to a step. But things have been going oddly for Harold lately, since he has been hearing voices. Not God, or Napoleon, or Pazuzu, but a fancy, authoritative-sounding British lady’s voice who simply narrates his day. This understandably freaks him out, and he goes to seek help. The voice is not simply a figment of his imagination though, as it turns out: it’s actually renowned author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) who is working on her newest masterpiece. There’s only one problem: Eiffel is well-known for killing off her protagonists! After going through a few psychiatrists, Harold hooks up with a wacky professor of literature (Dustin Hoffman) who tries to narrow down genres and authors. What kind of story is he in? How will it end? Once they ascertain he’s in an Eiffel novel, things are looking grim for Harold. He goes to visit the reclusive author, but she will not budge and change the ending. With his death looming in the near future, Harold dispenses with his buttoned down ways, starts eating fanciful cookies and banging Maggie Gyllenhaal. The true sign of an indie protagonist!

While I probably seem cynical and dismissive towards this movie like the FILM HIPSTER that I am, it’s actually never less than pleasant and watchable. The actors have good chemistry and the jokes mostly land, though it’s not really a laugh-out-loud comedy. The conceit of a narrator actually controlling a living person in their own world raises expectations of a movie having something to say about… free will? God? Stories? Maybe I’m just too stupid to get it (and I do like many Paul W.S. Anderson movies, so let’s not count that out) but the ending ultimately seems to reinforce only one message, and not as high-minded a one as you might expect.

SPOILARS PARAGARF

After reading Eiffel’s manuscript, Harold agrees that it’s very good and accepts his fate. This perturbs the neurotic author to such an extent that she rewrites his tragic accident into a merely very painful one, and Harold and his new girlfriend get to live happily ever after eating cookies at the 99% bakery. Eiffel’s new book, however, is received as “okay” rather than the literary game-changer it otherwise apparently would have been. From Harold’s POV, the movie seems to say “accept the bad shit and shit will go your way MAYBE”. From Eiffel’s POV, the message seems to be “sometimes it’s okay to shine a little less brightly if it means helping out someone else”. Even if it’s not exactly METATEXTUALLY MINDBLOWING, the latter is a great message. Which is perhaps apt for the movie; approach it as a middle-of-the-road Hollywood tragicomedy and you’ll come away entertained and even quite charmed.

SPOILARS PARAGAREF ENDS

Uhhh… shit, I had my conclusion in the spoiler paragraph. Uhhhh…

I liked Maggie Gyllenhaal’s fake tattoo, which was hilariously covered up in many shots cuz who has the time to put a principal through extensive make-up sessions on a tight shooting schedule!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Why isn’t Clarice Starling more of a feminist geek icon?

silence-of-the-lambs-1

Ellen Ripley. Sarah Connor. Buffy Summers. Xena. Throw out any of these names at any gathering of female geeks, and they will no doubt get hoots and/or hollers varying in decibel strength dependent on the ages of the ladies present. Deservedly so; they are all great, eminently watchable characters in movies and TV shows that dared to posit women as plot drivers and action heroines – fields generally (and lamentably) still reserved for male characters.

During a recent rewatch of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, however, it struck me how explicitly feminist and patriarchy-indicting this movie is. Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling is constantly working her ass off to excel in her field, only to be met with leers and flirtations everywhere she goes. Although Starling and the film’s main antagonist, serial killer Buffalo Bill, don’t meet until the last ten minutes or so, and her interactions with legendary movie monster Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) always have them separated by bars or glass, director Jonathan Demme creates a sense of palpable unease throughout. He frames many dialogue scenes with the interlocutors’ faces in center-screen close-up, making viewers feel uncomfortable, like their personal space is being invaded. Invariably, when Clarice shows up anywhere that has a man or men, she gets sex looks from all sides, and even straight up come-ons several times in the movie – not from perps or suspects, but from the purported professionals she has to work with.* A great exchange between Clarice and her boss Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) has Starling criticize Crawford for hushing up a local sheriff by telling him “let’s not discuss this in front of a woman.” Crawford reassures her that it was just an act to get him to play along, to which Starling replies that “it matters, sir.” That’s a nice bit of social critiquing in your serial killer movie, movie!

Although her sex sometimes forms a hurdle, Clarice is not completely defined by it. The titular SILENCE OF THE LAMBS reveals a youthful trauma that Hannibal Lecter wishes to tease out of her in exchange for information on Buffalo Bill. Lecter immediately makes guesses in the field of “sodomy” and “fellatio”, but it’s none of that. A male agent could just as easily have made the same confession to Lecter, and shared the same, ungendered motivation as Clarice. Much as I love Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, their motivations (hardcore mother instincts, especially in both of their second outings) have become an easy crutch for writers of female genre characters in the decades since. I very much appreciated the dichotomy SILENCE presents: Clarice’s inner world, where she is driven to achieve excellence by a non-gender specific trauma concerning a perceived failure, and her outward reality, where her gender is seemingly the only thing that ever gets noticed or she is judged upon.

Another positive thing I noticed was the film’s (admittedly hilariously heavy-handed**) assurance that, despite Buffalo Bill’s gender-bending proclivities, transpeople are not inherently violent, aberrant or dangerous. A remarkable feat for a 20+ year old movie, I’d say.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe Clarice Starling has actually been a huge feminist geek icon since 1991, but her fans are as un-flashy/showy as the woman herself. Maybe it’s the less-than-stellar other entries in the Lecter saga, but let’s face it – something being crap has never stopped nerds from putting stuff on pedestals. I certainly hope I am wrong, though – Agent Starling deserves a place in that pantheon among the slayers, warrior princesses, space truckers, and, uh, moms of really important future guys.

In any case, you could all do a lot worse than to rewatch SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It’s that rarest of beasts: a feminist horror movie, and a damned good one, to boot.

clarice

*My favorite/the creepiest was a cross-eyed stuttering entomologist she consults midway through the movie. Having this beta male confidently, almost lustfully gaze straight at the audience is some awkward shit.

**Clarice and Lecter both throw some statistics at each other about gender reassignment clinics, the application process, and studies about non-violence (“passivity” (?)) in transpeople. The entire film is predicated on tense dialogue between these two, but on this topic they are in full agreement. Bit silly if you think about it, but it’s for a good cause so hey.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I Live Near A Cinema: THE LONE RANGER

I recently moved back to my hometown, within walking distance of a cheap movie theater. While this is a great amenity for anyone who likes movies, it also presents a conundrum for the ever-entertainment-seeking First Worlder. It turns the cinema into a really big TV set. “Maaaan, there’s nothing on… ugh god, I don’t wanna get up though… ughhhh FINE, I’ll watch MONEY TALKS.” So in this situation, sometimes you’ll walk to the cinema, realize you’ve actually seen everything that’s playing that you wanted to see, and you end up seeing…

Eyes twitching, exuding a smell of sweat and horse urine, Gore Verbinski oversees the editing room of his over-budget, over-due western adventure THE LONE RANGER. The corpses of a Comanche tribe, wrongfully accused of raiding white settlements, are floating down a dark river, the film’s protagonists Tonto (Johnny Depp) and the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) looking on mournfully.

Behind Verbinski, a cartoon HOLLYWOOD FATCAT of indeterminate religious persuasion says “OY vatts vit de dead indians now? I thought this was a summer blockbuster wit mistuh PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN? We need a laff there!”

“Y-yeah, a laff hehe we can always use a laff hehehehe”, Verbinski acknowledges, turning to face his skulking co-editors in a dark corner of the room. “CAN’T WE?? HUH????”

A scream. “Y-yes, Mr. Verbinski! Laffs! Laffs!”

And that’s how you end up with the tonal clusterfuck of a slaughtered comanche tribe floating down a river at midnight, followed by Tonto making a wacky remark about Silver wearing a hat and being stuck up a tree.

The most tragic part here is that the Comanche chief was played by a dude who actually exuded some charisma, so it was sad to see him go. And Silver’s often a funny ass horse, so that gag was actually pretty funny. It’s the most tone-deaf thing I’ve seen since Michael Bay followed up a homecoming of caskets of American servicemen with racist robots shuckin’ and jivin’ within seconds in TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. Hell, if I didn’t know any better I would totally believe this was Michael Bay’s THE LONE RANGER. The two main characters are total assholes to each other for pretty much the entirety of the movie’s runtime (unlike Bumblebee, Tonto can actually talk back); the movie is weirdly violent*; it’s way too long and looks really pretty… hell, if there was a lecherous tracking shot through Helena Bonham Carter’s character’s whorehouse the illusion would pretty much be complete. Speaking of Helena Bonham Carter, much has been made of William Fichtner’s character Butch Cavendish eating the Lone Ranger’s brother’s heart. Gruesome indeed, but ultralawls at the reveal that ivory-legged madame HBC is only disabled because of Cannibal Cavendish! He ate a leg? Aaaahahaha come on now

Two things kill this movie.

1.) It’s too fucking long. Cut that shit down to about 90-100 minutes, you’re fine. You really don’t need the San Francisco framing story, for one. Ancient Tonto telling the story to a little boy in 1933 doesn’t add a thing to the movie. Why do we need the aforementioned Comanche massacre? We’d had another Native American massacre in a flashback minutes ago, pretty much perpetrated by the same bad guys. We get it.

2.) Tonto and the Ranger don’t like each other. At all. Ever. Why? This isn’t PIRATES. It’s not thematically appropriate for your main guys to be all double crossing and distrustful. Yeah, one’s white and the other’s a Native American and it’s western times, but come on. A whole big deal is made about how John Reid is an enlightened SITTEH BOY from COLLEDGE. Why not have him be nice? I mean fuck, you can even start out with them at odds, but surely they must win each other’s respect throughout the movie? At one point, I thought the Lone Ranger, having just left Tonto to die, had come back for him because he just couldn’t. But NO! Tonto knows where the bad guys are and he needs him! Whaaat? Fuck you, buddy!

If only Verbinski hadn’t lost his fuckin’ MIND during production, I think a pretty cool movie could have come out of this. Hell, Depp is funny as Tonto. I laughed a bunch of times at the gags between him and the horse. Armie Hammer is a charming actor, almost making you forget what a fedora lord the Lone Ranger is as written**. William Fichtner is an intimidating bad guy. The action scenes are really good – Verbinski definitely ain’t a slouch there!

Shit, I’m gonna say it. I think the finale is a bit hamstrung by the inclusion of the Wilhelm Tell Overture. After decades of only hearing it in comedy chases and cartoons, the big heroic Lone ranger moment of the movie seems like just another bit of snarking at the character. LAWL look at this Donald Duck try-hard motherfucker! If they’d just have a straight up western hero theme blast during that moment, it would have been 100% effective, as the staging and build-up were top notch, just like the train chase that follows!

Oh, LONE RANGER. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, undercut by some absolutely wrong-headed choices. Where JOHN CARTER was a little too eager at letting you get to know all of Barsoom, LONE RANGER feels like it has to keep its snark levels up at 100% at all times to keep audiences interested. The problem with that is, it’s a buddy picture. Tonto can get a good joke in, and the Ranger can, but who the hell are you supposed to be rooting for? I guess Tonto cuz he has PTSD so you give him some leeway?

My screening was pretty full, incidentally. Not packed, but certainly around 3/4ths. Lot of young ladies, and a dozen or so were waiting for the next screening as we walked out. Good ole Depp in whiteface will always get ‘em! God, if he was Carter, I’d probably have more Barsoom movies lined up right now, wouldn’t I?

“M-Mr. Verbinski…” a trembling editor asks, “May I go to the bathroom?”

“AGAIN VIT DE BATHROOM DIS ONE!!”

“Mr. Verbinski please that’s offensive it’s just you and me in here”

With a scream, Gore Verbinski throws a half-finished bagel at his fleeing editor. In the darkness, Gore Verbinski cries.

*Two girls in their early teens walked up the aisle during the intermission. Ella asked me if they weren’t a little young to be in here. Based on the first half of the movie, she apparently thought this was an R-rated movie. I can’t blame her!

**When an old lady asks him to pray with her, he smugly proclaims that John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government are his Bible. A TRUE FACE OF ATHEISM

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Nine Worlds Geekfest 2013: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Love the Bifrost

 

“I put my life savings into this fan film”, says Kate.

“Steampunk needs to strive towards more racial inclusivity,” says longtime steampunk enthusiast Tinker.

“I hate it when [showrunners] dangle stuff like [sexual tension between Sherlock and Watson] in front of you. It’ll never happen. At most, you’ll get a side-character whose relationship is completely asexual, who’ll then get killed off after a season,” says Anne.

“He was so happy – thank you”, says the mother of a huge autistic fellow after his knowledge of superhero scores made his impromptu quiz team win the round.

“I… I have to call my girlfriend. I think I’m trans!” says a transperson after a session at the Geek Feminism track.

Spartacus has, like, A BUNCH of dudes fucking!” says a slightly too enthusiastic Wholly On The Level.

 

When my friend Andrew invited Ella and me to Nine Worlds, we expected to have fun with silly movies/other nerd shit, get drunk and hang out with a genuine avant garde East London musician (from the future). Andrew ran the Film Festival track, playing some genuine oddities that he dug up himself or was graciously provided with by the Duke Mitchell Film Club. One of the activities was a film quiz – the one thing Andrew actually needed help with. It was a smashing success, if only for the above quote from the autistic kid’s mom. Apart from that, about 35 people showed up where we were expecting a max of 12. The Harry Potter Houses we’d fashioned into team names had to be joined by Muggles and Death Eaters, and it was here that I had to do the hardest job required of me all weekend – turning people away because the room was simply maxed out. Yeah, I helped some vendors unload their goods on the Friday morning, but there at least I was rewarded with smiles and thanks and happiness.

Once we’d handed out all of the prizes willy nilly (sorry, guy who got PROMETHEUS; sorry, mom of the teenagers who got a bottle of vodka), Future King Andrew basically allowed Ella, Diana and I to roam the grounds freely. While the Film Festival track had a lot of lovely stuff, we wanted to branch out a bit and try and get a sample of everything in. Note: this is impossible without being Dr. Manhattan. There’s LOTS to do at 9 Worlds.

While we had visits to the Geek Feminism and LGBTQ tracks planned, we also wanted to do some lighter stuff by visiting Game of Thrones and Dr. Who as well. Here’s what’s so amazing about Nine Worlds, however: what we considered to be panels where there would be goofin’ off and nerdery, important stuff popped up as well. A “Moffat vs. Davies” Who panel addressed not only Moffat’s self-congratulatory, overly complicated scripts who often waved things away with “timey wimey wibbly wobbly”… stuff, but also his failure to incorporate LGBT characters the same way Davies did. Even more impressively, the Davies defenders weren’t terribly fond of Rose or the Tenth Doctor’s exit either (two of the biggest symptoms of my Davies antipathy). Jenny and Vastra are awesome in theory, but they feel rather token with their asexual relationship and repeated robot statements of “THIS IS MY WIFE YES”. Afterwards, I had a friendly chat with Rich, one of the more vocal Davies fans in the room, where we came to the conclusion that the ideal Who would be a Moffat/Davies co-run affair where they could reign each other’s worst tendencies in. Then I was recommended a 22-chapter-and-counting Who slash saga. Hey, we weren’t Moffat and Davies, we didn’t have to restrain each other.

At the Geek Feminism track, I learned that one of the most important battles in the fight against misogyny is an internal one. It’s wrong to consider “misogynists” an external, evil force that has to be combated until they are all gone. Misogyny is something that can manifest in everyone, at any time. The important part is to be able to recognize that and learn from it. Did you offend someone? Don’t go on the defensive; find out why you did so, and apologize.

Inversely, hilarious nerdery also popped up at the “serious” panels: Paul Cornell praised Torchwood for being so good at inclusiveness, “if only it were good at literally ANYTHING else.”
Laurie Penny, on the same panel/Rich, seated next to me: “NOOO BOOO FUCK YOUUUU”

At the LGBTQ track, I learned what “queerbaiting” means, and got to briefly wax positive about one of my favorite(/most underrated) shows of all time (see quotes above). I also learned that geek TV really isn’t as progressive as TV geeks like to think it is. Quick, name some happy sci/fantasy gay couples not struck by tragedy and containing at least one rounded character! Oh look Star Wars Episode 12 came out a few seconds ago whaddya know

Syrio Forel shook my hand and said hello again later that night of his own accord. The First Sword of Braavos! EEEEEEEEE

Back at Andrew’s Film Festival, I saw some earth-shatteringly awesome movies.

This is an amazingly progressive movie, actually.

Also, THOUSAND YEAR GINSENG KING: http://vimeo.com/32968612 watch this for a THOUSAND YEAR GINSENG KING plus complimentary nazi zombie. It’s basically a Taiwanese kung fu NEVERENDING STORY.

And perhaps my favorite thing of all: KOJAK BUDAPESTEN. You see, once upon a time, Hungaria loved KOJAK! So much so that they made their own Kojak... rip-off? Nuh uh! Telly Savalas was so amused with the idea that he let them use his likeness for $1 -- Hungarian Kojak is played by the guy who actually dubs Telly on the TV show. Please enjoy this fan made trailer, since a real trailer is nowhere to be found. The theme song is amazing. This trailer was fan-made by the Duke Mitchell Film Club.

Official canon.

When it was all over, I actually felt melancholy. I’d been talking to geeks all weekend, even those whose fandoms I looked down upon previously, and came away with greater understanding. I felt more informed on gender issues and inclusivity, and endeavored to be more mindful of every kind of person in my life, online and off. After a Saturday evening Buffy singalong*, I realized that this was how religious people must feel when they go on retreat, and then go back into the sinful, heathen world afterwards. Nine Worlds really felt like a place where people came to be excellent to each other, and to preach for excellence to spread out across the world. Well, I’m a convert. You have my sword**, Nine Worlds!

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*shut up

**shitty blog

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

I Live Near A Cinema: R.I.P.D.

I recently moved back to my hometown, within walking distance of a cheap movie theater. While this is a great amenity for anyone who likes movies, it also presents a conundrum for the ever-entertainment-seeking First Worlder. It turns the cinema into a really big TV set. “Maaaan, there’s nothing on… ugh god, I don’t wanna get up though… ughhhh FINE, I’ll watch MONEY TALKS.” So in this situation, sometimes you’ll walk to the cinema, realize you’ve actually seen everything that’s playing that you wanted to see, and you end up seeing…

Sometimes I like movies that are near-universally panned. It happens! I recently rewatched HUDSON HAWK and found it as amusing as it was when I was ten. Sure, it’s the Big Kiss-Ass Bruno Muggin’ show, but a decade and change of Bruce Willis grumpily phoning in his parts made me appreciative of a time when he tried to make us smile and laugh with a roguish grin and a blue collar Joisey attitude.

There is some phoning in happening in R.I.P.D. as well, but R.I.P.D. only wishes it had HUDSON HAWK’s charm and ability to make lazy shit work!

Ryan Reynolds is a cop who is feeling bad about “confiscating” some gold from some crackheads. Like weird, golden tablet fragments with Sumerian or some shit on them type of gold. Not the gaudy rapper chains kind. His buddy Kevin Bacon knows a guy who’ll cut ‘em a good deal on the stuff, but Ryan’s having a change of heart. He gives his shards back to Bacon, and says he won’t rat on him. Not good enough for Hollow Man, though! During a drug raid, Bacon shoots Reynolds dead and his soul ascends to Judgment.

BUT WAIT! He wakes up in a small interogation room, where Mary-Louise Parker informs him that, rather than go to Hell (for stealing some gold?) he can work off his soul debt or whatever with the Rest In Piece Department. These death cops round up souls that somehow escaped Judgment and run around Earth after their time. These wayward souls are called “deados” and live near-normal lives, besides the fact that their “rotten souls” fuck shit up around them. Shit breaks, plants wilt, etc. Reynolds is partnered up with Old West Marshall Jeff Bridges, who basically plays his character as Rooster Cogburn if he were a wacky neighbor on Everybody Loves Raymond.

Bridges is phoning his performance in, Reynolds is looking for his charger. When he dies and subsequently makes his way through the time-frozen warehouse shootout he died at, he apparently can’t emote further than a vaguely confused look that actually does seem to indicate he doesn’t know where his charger is. The afterlife is real bro! Make a different face!

A possibly fun conceit the movie posits, is that R.I.P.D. agents have randomized avatar bodies, so the living don’t suddenly see a deceased loved one chasing a CGI troll down the street. Bridges’ Avatar is model Marissa Miller, Reynolds’ is fucking JAMES HONG. In the unfortunately brief interludes in which Reynolds is replaced with Hong, the guy displays a charm and warmth wholly absent from this movie otherwise. Director Robert Schwentke apparently had no idea what to do with the idea of the avatars. You’d think that this incongruous duo (supermodel + elderly Chinese man) would be somewhat played for laughs, right? This happens once, as a deado throws Bridges into traffic and he gets squashed against a bus windshield. The bus driver sees a busty, statuesque blonde scrape herself off his vehicle and get back in the fray. To be honest, there are three other moments where the avatar is given some face-time, but I do not count these as jokes because playing “Let’s Get It On” while the camera slowly pans around/dollies over Miller’s body while passers-by make drooly faces does not a joke make. Otherwise, cuts to the avatars happen at random, seconds-long intervals just to remind the audience that OH YEAH PEOPLE DON’T SEE ‘EM LIKE WE SEE ‘EM

If you thought it weird that they’d get Kevin Bacon as the guy who kills the hero in the first act, do not worry! He is actually a deado and the main villain! Huh? But how come shit never broke/wilted around him? Oh there are some talismans that are said to contain a deado’s soul rot! OF COURSE! His grandmother’s St. Christopher medal that he always wears! This is all information relayed to the audience in the same span of time it took you to read the last few sentences, all immediately after Bacon’s intentions are revealed.

Comparisons to MEN IN BLACK were trotted out almost immediately with the first trailer, but this movie isn’t even MIB2. The deados are shown few and far between, and their designs are nonsensical and boring. Apparently, escaping Judgment turns you into a weird CGI ogre man/woman, but you can suppress it, but stuff breaks and wilts around, but you reveal your true, CGI self when sprinkled with cumin. There’s a weird BLADE RUNNER Voight/Kampff test scene where I simply could not understand what the hell was going on, although I was moderately amused at the perp being Prison Break’s Robert Knepper aka T-Bag. Note that this scene takes place before we know the deados are allergic to cumin, and you can literally just hold it under their noses and they’ll “pop”, as the movie calls it. I guess we just needed more unfunny, embarrassing banter to fill this 96 minute movie! I will concede that that is a good running time.

Good on you, R.I.P.D. You have a good running time.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hugh Jackman loves Wolverine–and it’s hard not to agree!

ELLO MATES DO YOU LIKE MY MOVIE GOSH CRIKEY I SURE LIKED MAKING IT

If, after 2014’s X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, Hugh Jackman plays the immortal mutant Wolverine one more time, he will have played the character more times than anyone has played James Bond in the official 007 films.* He’s been playing this character for thirteen years now. And, unlike Milla Jovovich**, his significant other isn’t the brains behind the franchise. Perhaps a better comparison would be Vin Diesel and Riddick. Vin was pretty cool as space criminal Riddick in PITCH BLACK, and when THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS blew up in 2001, Vin and director David Twohy thought they had a big new space superhero on their hands. Unfortunately nobody really gave a shit about Vin’s Space D&D saga, and it took us THREE other mega-successful F&F entries starring Vin before he got the leeway to go back to Riddick – with a distinctly more modest budget, at that. How jealous must Vin be of Hugh, who pretty much got to play his favorite character non stop for the last decade?

THE WOLVERINE is a loose adaptation of the Chris Claremont-written, Frank Miller-inked 1980s X-Men spin-off miniseries simply called, well, WOLVERINE in which Logan goes to Japan and some ninja shit goes down on rainy rooftops. You know, Frank Miller stuff.

In James Mangold’s THE WOLVERINE ninja shit happens in Japan just like in the funnybooks, and it’s actually pretty cool. Maybe it’s because I’d forgotten there were ninjas in the actual movie by the time they show up, but once they do show up, it’s like watching Cirque du Soleil with knives or something. It’s really impressive how those stunt guys just quietly fill the screen without making any sounds on their footie pajamas. Yes, I am aware that sound editing exists, but it’s still a pretty cool thing. The ninja attacks are actually pretty emblematic of the movie as a whole. They’re low key, they’re cool, they’re efficient. If I were more cynical, I’d make the more negative comparison that they’re both also low-hanging panderfruit (omg ninjas so awesome – omg the wolverine in japan story so awesome!!1) but I am not that cynical sir!

Now that we’re speaking of pandering; CONFESSION TIME! When I first saw the trailer, I was struck by the appearance of model-turned-actress Rila Fukushima as Yukio, the Yashida Clan envoy sent to whisk Logan to Japan. While I wasn’t actively upset about a female comic book movie heroine being played by someone I found unattractive looking, it was the first thing my brain registered about her. “Huh, look at that. Not hot. How weird.” I publicly say this because Fukushima’s actual performance makes me doubly embarrassed for that visceral first reaction. Yukio is probably the best thing about the movie besides Wolverine himself. To bring in the Bond comparison again, here were two models trying their hand at acting for the first time and, unlike say THUNDERBALL or YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE***, they were able to deliver English lines without ADR, and with a decent amount of pathos to boot! One of the most tangible niggles I had with the film was that the resolution of her mini-arc is, for some reson, taken out of her hands and given to Wolverine. This is strange and unnecessary, especially given the fact that the movie even attempted to give her a personality (she’s certainly no Go-Go Yubari or Miho) and motivations.

Let’s also talk about the character of Wolverine and his inherent problem for movie adaptations. The guy’s superpower is he has knives coming out of his hands with which he stabs people. That’s tough stuff for a PG-13 superhero movie, and nobody’s putting enough money in these movies for him to exclusively fight bog monsters and androids. Luckily, James Mangold is pretty adept at artful suggestion. The movie pushes PG-13 to its limits a few times, but most of the violence is off-screen, obscured by convenient dragon statues or implied by squicky ADR. No awkward Nolan style Matthew-Modine-lies-down-for-a-nap deaths in this one!

Even though the film opens at fucking Nagasaki at detonation time, it’s a pretty low key movie compared to stuff like MAN OF STEEL or PACIFIC RIM. For a summer tentpole, there really is a lot of talk of regret, loss and honor. It’s all a bit melodramatic, but I honestly found it refreshing. And again, Jackman and his Japanese co-stars are capable enough actors to carry it. While Wolverine is sad, he’s never whiney, and his inner turmoil does not artifically hold up the story’s progression. The finale does go a bit… broad, but I found it to be enjoyable comic book broadness, and not at all in betrayal of what came before. Another Marvel character gets the Mandarin IM3 switcheroo treatment here, although I don’t know if anyone will give as much of a shit. Luckily I didn’t even know anyone who got upset over the Mandarin thing, so I am sorry for your lots if you do. Treat them to an ice cream or something.

THE WOLVERINE won’t change anybody’s life, but it’s a solid bit of genre filmmaking with assured direction, good (in some cases pretty broad, but appropriately so) acting, a couple of fun set pieces and another good case for Hollywood to stop giving Marco Beltrami work.

*A hypothetical 8 – Roger Moore’s the most prolific Bond with 7.

**5 turns as Alice with a 6th one coming up.

***Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (in)famously cast lovely looking models for any female parts in early Bonds without ever really knowing if they even spoke English well enough. Plenty of dubbing going on in those first movies!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #26: SNOW CAKE

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

When Ella took a subscription to a Dutch film magazine, she got three DVDs gratis. BROKEN FLOWERS, DONNIE DARKO and SNOW CAKE. The latter is one of those all-too-rare movies I’d never even heard of. The DVD at my disposal didn’t even have that stupid tagline on it, so I could only go off the pictures on the cover. Happy looking Sigourney and Carrie-Anne, slightly concerned looking Alan Rickman, okay… A “6” rating, which is about the equivalent of WIZARD OF OZ in terms of offensive content, okay… I was actually pretty psyched! I could not get a handle on what this movie was! How often does that happen? Okay man, I am so down for SNOW CAKE you cannot BELIEVE IT SON

It took about ten minutes to deflate that childish enthusiasm. Rickman plays a quiet, brooding English gentleman on his way to Winnipeg. At a truck stop, he reluctantly picks up overly talkative, purple-haired and quirkily dressed Vivienne. Oh no

i had stumbled into a manic pixie dream girl movie

Vivienne isn’t even a very good MPDG, as she happily eats McDonald’s and sings along to The Free’s “All Right Now”! How corporate is that?

But then, about ten minutes into the movie, a Cylon hits them with a truck and Vivienne dies. What? Had I been underestimating this movie? Was it building itself up as an MPDG drama/comedy, only to pull the rug out from under me not a quarter of an hour in?

Nnnnnot exactly. As Rickman goes to notify Vivienne’s next of kin, he approaches this dreary 70s looking pad as some weird Japanese folk music is playing. I was actually getting excited for sheer Lynchean madness at this point! Sigourney plays Vivienne’s mother, who is a high-functioning autistic peron. Carrie-Anne Moss is her next door neighbor, a filthy atheist slut who is reviled by the conservative Christians of the town of Wawa (!) for her atheism and sluttiness. Due to circumstances (her parents hiking in the wilds somewhere and out of reach for a few weeks), Rickman feels compelled to take care of Sigourney. Still shaken from his passenger’s recent death, he delivers some crap from a gas station (“sparklies”) Vivienne was planning to bring to her mother. He sits down at the kitchen table, has a realization and breaks down and cries. This breakdown is framed in such a way that Weaver is dancing through the shot with some cheap plastic lights going HERPADERPADERP while Rickman is just slumped at the table, crying. I’m not going to lie – I laughed. It’s like Rickman was thinking, “Oh god, it’s out of the frying pan, into the fire with these people!” Later, in the snowy back yard, Sigourney asks Rickman if he’s ever had an orgasm. He says yes, and Sigourney explains that Vivienne tried to describe it to her once (!). She believes it didn’t sound as good as the feeling she gets when she stuffs her mouth full of snow, which she promptly does, rolls all over the ground and goes HNNNGHHHHOMNOMNOMNOM, as Rickman stares at the ground forlornly. I laughed again. These were the highlights of the film. Do not watch it, it is very boring. There is one bit where it almost reaches actual sadness, as the grampa reads from a children’s picture book Vivienne was working on at her funeral. It’s a story about a little boy and his brother who is different. As the crosscutting to Sigourney will tell you, it’s REALLY a story of Vivienne and her mother, but I actually thought the short story worked better than anything in the actual movie had so far. It also takes up like maybe two minutes of screentime, so it’s not like it really saves anything. But kudos for the guy who played the grandfather, I suppose. Yes, kudos to you, Mr. David Fox, English VA for Captain Haddock and the Sentinels/Master Mold in the 90s X-Men cartoon!

ps alan rickman learns to value life again do not worry

Friday, June 14, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #25: SHREK THE THIRD

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

There is a commonly held belief among movie geeks (currently somewhat antiquated) that Dreamworks is an irredeemable shit factory, whereas Pixar is a magical rainbow palace where gumdrop kisses fly out of puppy buttholes 24/7. In the year of our lord 2013, films like HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, the CARS franchise, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS and others should have helped put that belief to rest. In the year of our lord 2007, however, movies like SHREK THE THIRD and RATATOUILLE were pit against each other, and suddenly one can see the wisdom in such axioms.

SHREK THE THIRD continues the travails of Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, Puss as they temporarily take over kingly duties while Fiona’s father lays ill. They are comically inept at it, as they are ogres and farm animals. When the king dies after a protracted scene where exagerrated groans are mistaken for comedy*, it is up to Shrek to either take up the throne, or find the next guy in line – one Arthur at the distant Worcestershire academy. But that is not all that is rotten in the land of Far Far Away! Somewhere in a seedy nightclub, Prince Charming** has united all the villains who are public domain enough to be in this movie and has taken the king’s death and Shrek’s departure as an opportunity to storm the castle and take what he believes is rightfully his by force.

Since SHREK is first and foremost a comedy, I’ll cut it some slack on the plot front. The main quest and the villain’s plan are completely separate things that are never in any way organically connected. Fine, okay. This movie only happened because SHREK 2 made a jillion dollars and they needed something put in production quick for a release date that was probably set in stone about six hours after the second one came out. Plot probably wasn’t the biggest priority. How about jokes then? These can be divided roughly into two varieties. It’s not a 1:1 analogy, but most of the time, it works.

Is the joke executed in animation? COULD BE funny.

Ex. Shrek has to christen a boat but he tosses the bottle too hard and the hull is breeched and the sails inexplicably set fire; Shrek has a nightmare where he is buried in hilariously apathetic looking babies.

Is the joke one executed in writing and acting? Most likely, it is not funny.

Ex. Shrek acts like a sitcom dad straight out of King of Queens (70% of scenes); someone mugs (100% of scenes)

There is a viking captain on the boat that takes Shrek, Donkey and Puss to Worcestershire Academy. He has about 6 lines. They paid Seth Rogen to deliver these. I guess they just couldn’t cut those lines down to the minimum required amount of lines in a Dreamworks movie under which the SAG allows them to hire non-celebrities.

Look, here’s a thing: Fiona and the other princesses are taken captive by the villains and they bust out on their own accord and kick ass. This ultimately has little bearing on the outcome of the plot, but it’s nice to see the damsel in distress trope undercut, and it’s also nice to see Amy Poehler command woodland creatures by singing Immigrant Song. I mean, it’s not too important, but it’s a thing.

I assume that everyone who liked this movie has forgotten about it by now. Mike Myers has probably forgotten about it. It’s the one where you talked Scottish, Mike.

 

*oh god he is a frog and he CROAKS i just got it

**who in the current pop culture climate resembles nothing less than a perfect CGI recreation of Jaime Lannister. Ironically enough, good guy Artie looks just as Lannistery in his red and gold doublet and blonde wavy hair.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #24: SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

Imagine, ladies, if you will, that you are settling the Oregon frontier round about 1850. There’s about five to ten guys for every woman, and settlin’ the land is the imperative. You have a pretty demanding job at the local saloon or guest house or what have you, and you’d like to lower the workload a bit.

So if this motherfucker

comes down the mountain one day, looking for something YOUNG N FRESH TRIM NOT TOO SLIM to marry… why, you wouldn’t think twice about it, now would you? I mean… cooking and cleaning for one guy as opposed to a bunch at the guest house, that’s pretty much a no brainer!

Now, hold your horses, ladies! Turns out this guy wasn’t as trustworthy as he initially looked! For you see, he has six ginger brothers holed up on his farm, and they’re all good-for-nothin’ slobs and jackanapes! Your dreams of a substantially reduced workload… DASHED!

Stanley Donen’s (hey, two movies of his in a row) SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS does its best to do a lot of backpedaling and whitewashing for its outrageous ideas, but they’re still pretty outrageous. Later in the movie, Jane Powell’s (hey, two movies with her in a row) Milly tells Howard Keel’s Adam Pontipee (!) that she was in love with him the first moment she saw him, but for most of the first act, her attraction to him seems to be based on the fact that cooking and cleaning for ONLY ONE MAN??? is pretty much a dream come true for any frontierswoman.

Adam’s six brothers would all like a wife too, but they’re too scruffy and smelly to go a-courtin’. Milly teaches them all how to bag chicks – basic politeness and terms of endearment randomly spouted apparently were enough to get the Oregon trail slippery. Turn-offs: fisticuffs. This is hard stuff for the Pontipee brothers, and it takes a montage to get right. When they all go down in color-coded shirts for the annual barn-raisin’, the local bachelors make sure that they don’t woo ANY of the town’s available womenfolk by constantly trying to goad them into a fight. The brothers get smashed in the head by planks, hammers, 2x4s, get fingers stepped on, you name it. They all do pretty well at restraining themselves, until a bachelor punches Adam – then the shit is ON

The whole barn-raising sequence, from the square dance to the barn-destroying fistfight, is just absolutely wonderful cinema. The brothers, bachelors and bachelorettes – most of them dancers from the NY ballet – just absolutely kill it, tapping and jumping on parallel bars, swinging axes (!) around, jumping up and down scaffolding, doing somersaults… fantastic stuff. I mentioned in my post on ROYAL WEDDING how the musical was a precursor to the action movie for cinematic comfort food. Well, SEVEN BRIDES perfectly illustrates it by putting a dance sequence so close to a fantastically choreographed fight sequence. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jackie Chan was a big fan of this movie. John Woo is a self-avowed musical buff, actually.

But okay, let’s talk about my favorite thing in this entire fucking movie: THE SOBBIN’ WOMEN

“Sometimes, fellas, you just gots to take the pussy!”

Despondent because their fisticuffs has destroyed their chances with the gals they fancied, the boys are sulking in the barn. Adam says DON’T BE FAGGOTS cuz this here book says the old Romans kidnapped a bunch of women and they turned out to like it so why not do that huh???

GREAT IDEA

Next follows an amazing montage of the brothers literally fucking THROWING SACKS OVER THE HEADS OF WOMEN THEY LURED OUT OF THEIR HOUSES in perhaps the most beautiful precursor to that merry Michael Bay sociopathy I’ve ever seen. Also the lyrics to “Sobbin’ Women” basically boils down to “SOMETIMES… WHEN WEEMAN SAY NO NO… SHE MEAN YES YES”

This turns out to be 100% sound advice, as the girls fall madly in love with their appointed brothers over the course of one snowed-in winter. They say if you marry in Stockholm, you’re a bride all your life! We’re talking, of course, about Stockholm, Oregon.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #23: ROYAL WEDDING

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

LAWL “MGM’s gayest Technicolor musical”

There’s nothing to better prepare you for ROYAL WEDDING as an inexperienced musical watcher than that tagline, really. It’s a viewing experience from a completely different cinematic world than the one we have in 2013*. I like musicals, although I’ve never really delved deep into the genre per se. My biggest exposure has no doubt been Gene Kelly, more specifically SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. ROYAL WEDDING was my first Fred Astaire movie. Astaire is a bit of a weird looking guy to be a movie star, huh? I mean look at him up there! He’s perfectly charming and a great performer and all that, but it just makes you think how homogenous movie stars in our day are. Think of Astaire, Cagney, Harlow… those were some WEIRD looking motherfuckers!

The plot of ROYAL WEDDING (such as it is) has Astaire and co-star Jane Powell as a brother-sister dancing duo, hitting it big on Broadway. Their agent comes to inform them that their numbers are so good, he can get them to perform in LONDON, ENGLAND, don’tchaknow! Powell leaves behind three suitors who end up engaging in fisticuffs on the very shore when the boat leaves with the siblings. What a wild dame, especially for a 1951 movie! Now, the concept of a brother-sister dancing duo is pretty weird in and of itself, I think – especially considering that they’re playing a flirting king and maid in the opening number! But Astaire is super adamant about them both not getting married, cuz it just wouldn’t fit their lifestyle. Suitors and beaus and whatnot, all good and well, but don’t you settle down, missy!

So, of course, over the course of the film, they both meet that Special Someone to make them settle down, Powell in an impoverished lord played by Peter Lawford and Astaire in a barkeep’s daughter (Sarah Churchill). There is a minimum of conflict in these relationships; Powell/Lawford’s big obstacle is that Astaire doesn’t approve (“Nothing serious!”), Astaire/Churchill’s problem is that she’s already with someone. Okay, that last one would seem pretty big, but you know how it gets solved? SPOILERS, I guess! Astaire has his agent call some guys in the US (the rival is in Chicago) and see what he’s up to. Turns out, the fellow married someone else a few months ago! Well, that’s convenient! Wait a minute, how are we filling up a 93 minute movie here? Sounds like someone forgot that it’s a MUSICAL!

Sometimes there’ll be 30 second dialogue intervals between 5 minute tapdance scenes. My favorite was right after an elaborate dance number, Powell and Lawford are having a romantic day-for-night stroll in the English countryside, when Lawford asks Powell if she loves him. CUE SONG MOTHERFUCKER

Probably the best bit (although maybe musical scholars, as there must exist, would find it gimmicky and cheap) was Astaire being so happy about his newfound love with Churchill (and her love for dancing! Oh! What a woman!) that he just has to… you guessed it! TAPPA TAPPA TAPPA in victory all over his hotel room. And I do mean all over:

BRRRAAAWWWWWWWW

Final bit of movie-related lulz: the “royal wedding” of the title is actually just a background thing that’s kinda happening. None of the characters are royals. The royal wedding does get all the principals married, though, as Astaire and Powell, in the final moments of the film, just get SO FUCKING HYPED SON at the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Phillip Mountbatten that they just both have to get married right the fuck now hnnnghhhh and they do. This is the big final act reversal as they both, with no outside stressing, had decided earlier to keep on keepin’ on with their NO SERIOUS RELATIONS policy. But goddamn you know, that’s really impressive stock footage! So they find a descendant of Oliver Cromwell to wed them on a day where seemingly every other Briton is waving Union Jacks out on the street and he’s just happy to be out of that stupid poopyhead royalist confusion. END CREDITS

ROYAL WEDDING is a charming little movie from a bygone age that maybe isn’t THAT different from the cinematic age in which we live now. I think the (pre-STAR WARS) 70s are probably far more different to what’s in theaters now than the musical age ever was.

But now for some REAL TALK! The DVD for ROYAL WEDDING was by the same cheap publishers that did the HIS GIRL FRIDAY release talked about in this same series. Check out that link for essentially the same main DVD menu as ROYAL WEDDING but with a different title. After the end titles of RW faded out, though, I was treated with a chilling rogue image. I decided to pop the DVD into my computer disc drive, but VLC Media Player cut back to the main menu. I was gonna have to capture this motherfucker the hard way! So I played the end scene on my TV again about four times before I could register this PHANTOM FRAME

WP_000109

what

Does that mean this DVD was just transferred from a VHS and ROYAL WEDDING wasn’t the first thing on it? Is CLASSIC MOVIES into more sinister dealings than selling cheap, ugly transfers of classic movies? What? WHAT????? I will not stop my investigations until I feel the puppies lapping at my toes, dear reader, you may rest assured of that!

 

*Although you could argue that big blockbuster action movies have basically supplanted the musical as the dominant form of cinematic comfort food for mainstream audiences. How many times over the past decade have YOU gone out to see a young man gain powers, assume a super-identity and fight some equally powered-up bad guy? Consider this before dismissing the Hollywood musical!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #22: THE PRINCESS DIARIES

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

As far as Hollywood ugly duckling stories go, it doesn’t get anymore Hollywood ugly duckling than THE PRINCESS DIARIES. Shortly before her sixteenth birthday, Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) finds out that her “snooty grandma from Europe who never calls or wants anything to do with us” is in the country and would like to have tea with her. Mia, shunned by fancy high school society* because of her frizzy hair and clumsy ways, is skeptical at her grandmother’s interest, but is convinced by mom to do her that courtesy. Turns out that grandma is actually Queen Clarice of Genovia and Mary Poppins to boot! Daddy done died back in the old country, and Mia is to be heir to the throne, should she accept her mission. This regent will self-destruct in five amendments.

It’s a pretty famous movie, and I was familiar with the basic set-up. So color me surprised that it never actually leaves San Francisco, Mia’s hometown! All the fancy ballroom stuff happens at the Genovian consulate, which I guess is a nice way to cut costs. Why not have Mia be a Vancouver resident and go all the way, huh, Disney? But no! The SF location is actually essential for a couple of gags and a PLOT COMPLICATION in the third act. San Francisco has GAYS and HILLS you see!

No but seriously, Hollywood ugly duckling story. LOL outcast Anne Hathaway! Okay, I really only know Hathaway as THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD that she is now, but come on! Come onnnn! Look at that picture up there! It’s supposed to be all “oh lol this dress it’s SO NOT ME GUYS” but it comes across more as a “aren’t these boots wacky?? gimme my heels back!” to me because it’s Academy Award winning movie star Anne Hathaway. Julie Andrews is feeling underdressed!

The movie! It’s pleasant and gentle and aimed at little girls. Director Garry Marshall of (lawl) PRETTY WOMAN and RUNAWAY BRIDE delivers good pandering, I guess, so there’s that. This was in the pre-TWILIGHT times, so of the two boys Mia has to choose from, one’s actually a douche. But the other puts M&Ms on his keyboard, so I don’t know what’s what! Mia apologizes to him at one point by sending him a pizza with M&Ms spelling out “SORRY” on it. I was so angry! What a waste of pizza and M&Ms! And you know you can’t pick that shit off cuz the chocolate’s gonna be all half melted in the cheese and oh GOD I have to stop thinking about that horrible shit.

My favorite scene is one where Mia has banged her Impala (!!!) into the back of one of those SF trolleys as seen in THE ROCK, and she’s in big trouble and has to come down to the station. Granny Julie, however, uses her queenly demeanor to praise the trolley driver and the cop writing it up, knighting them into the newly-invented Order of the Rose (they were on the corner of Rose & Branch St). The cop and driver’s reactions are all “Aww shucks ma’am, ‘t weren’t nuthin’!” as if this movie was made in 1951 or something and they get off with a warning because that lady was just so gosh durned fancy. That’s cute! Like a movie aimed at ten year olds should be! At one point, Mia and Mandy Moore have a shouting match and they can’t get any nastier than FREAK and JERK! That’s cute too! Is it funny? Cuz it’s a comedy too, right? Ehhhh… maybe? It’s too inoffensive to be really funny, I think, but there are a couple of funny cat reaction shots. Hathaway and Andrews sell it pretty well!

This movie was the big break-out vehicle for Hathaway, so it’s funny that I should only see it a decade after release. In fact, the very first time I saw her in a movie was fucking BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN! I was very aware of this movie though cuz it was pimped pretty hard on the televisions, back when I still watched it. For just this once, we can thank Disney though, cuz this movie launched Anne Best Catwoman Ever Hathaway and the world got a little better. I won’t forgive you for JOHN CARTER’s marketing campaign though, Disney. Ever. YOU HEAR ME?

*including Mandy Moore and that herp-a-derp oldest brother from Complete Savages who Mia wants nothing more than to kiss her already because she has a fetish for the mentally disabled