Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New to the Store: Week of 30 Nov 2010

Slow week for everything except big studio titles. Christmas must be coming or something...

Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods
Knight and Day (also BluRay)
Metropolis: "Complete" Edition (BluRay)
Parks and Recreation: Season 2
Sorcerer's Apprentice, The (also BluRay)
Special Relationship, The
Valhalla Rising
Vampires Suck

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #85: Four Lions (2010)

Chris Morris, a notoriously shy, reclusive BBC comedian and so-called "media terrorist" has directed his first feature film. And fittingly, it's about terrorism. Yippee! He's directed for and starred in various BBC television projects in the past, and his stuff is typically hilarious and full of biting commentary. Seeing his name on the DVD case certainly grabbed my interest, since it promised something aggressively satirical.

Four Lions centres on four British jihadists trying to take their ideals to a violent end and blow themselves up in the name of the great struggle against MacDonald's and Jews and all that jazz. One of the characters is so comfortable with blowing up that his own family encourages him lovingly towards his goal as though he were simply going for a raise at his security job. He's the one with the most relative sense, and the other guys are mostly hapless, confused, and belligerent. Some of them aren't exactly sure they want to blow up, but the peer pressure is too great for them. One goes so far as to try to train cute, friendly crows strapped with bombs to fly into sex toy shops and jihad themselves up to heaven. It doesn't go too well.

While the characters are clearly huge idiots, they also seem very human. The stupidity that it takes to blow yourself up and kill people doesn't precisely come from a fanatically religious place in Four Lions. Rather, it seems to have more to do with human insecurities and vulnerabilities. This makes the characters mostly sympathetic idiots rather than easily dismissed and disliked religious lunatics. You get the constant impression that these people are missing something and getting in way over their heads. The key phrase at a pivotal moment in the narrative is "I'm sorry. I don't really know what I'm doing."

So: Some interesting and endearing satire. Worth a look.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #84: Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Hi kids. Captain Spaulding here, this time with CRYSTAL NINJA STARS.

This wonderful Gigeresque Alien ripoff is full of familiar faces. I was amazed to see Robert Englund, Ray Walston, someone from Happy Days but not who you're thinking, and Sid Haig, all milling about in a space ship together in a movie that looks and plays out like an issue of Heavy Metal. Here's why:

After a generic scene where a dude somewhere is running away from something scary and dies, the movie proper opens in a way I wasn't expecting. The movie decides to trip the hell out. We get a guy playing some kind of lasery table game with an old witch. He's called The Master, and he has a glowing plasma flame for a head. No face.

The Master, getting it done.

Him and The Oracle are apparently deciding the fate of the planet, and The Master orders a rescue mission, one that apparently needs to happen for reasons of Destiny, to a planet where something awful happened years ago. The dialogue in that scene is grandiose and striking, and I eat that crazy space opera/space fantasy stuff up like alphacentaurigetti.

Though it's mostly rushed thanks to its hour and twenty runtime, the movie works pretty hard to give each character some kind of bizarre distinctness, most fun of which, and most out of the blue, is Sid Haig's character Quuhod. He's an understanding and empathic warrior-type who "lives and dies by the crystal," meaning that as a master of these cool crystal throwing blades he can touch no other weapon. Sid Haig apparently, on reading the script, insisted that Quuhod be played entirely mute. He thought the lines were terrible and didn't suit the character at all, and given most of the dialogue in the film, was probably right. Famed producer Roger Corman heard his pleas and agreed. Quuhod's muteness, coupled with the movie's tendency to give you hints of back story and lore without actually telling you what any of it is, adds a wonderful mystique to the narrative that the movie really needed. I kind of want a movie just with Quuhod, hiking across the galaxy like the man with no name and dealing in blade wounds instead of gunshots. But this is a universe where dreams are shattered. This is a galaxy....of terror! Though it might be a Battle Beyond the Stars, since it uses enough stock footage from that previous Corman sci-fi.

I found myself liking this flick not just for its Corman-infused silliness, but its streaks of seriousness. As I mentioned before, much of the stuff you see seems like it could have come right off the pages of Heavy Metal Magazine. The movie possesses the same kind of weird, dark, and at times sexual space opera that I can't get enough of, though almost did when it came to the maggot rape sequence. Yep.

I wish I could say a maggot was raped when I write "maggot rape sequence," but I'm afraid an enormous maggot rapes a busty blonde in Galaxy of Terror, and that the scene was a big part of the movie's relative success. I'd forgotten up until that point that I was watching a Roger Corman flick. It will only make sense once you find out what an evil pyramid in the movie is all about, but not much sense.

Also, James Cameron was apparently second unit director and production designer. In the special features there's a handful of really interesting anecdotes about a smug and combative Cameron berating people for various silly reasons. The prosthetics department supposedly made a monster partially in the likeness of Cameron, though I couldn't see any similarities apart from the claws and slime. The special features on the disc are great, and Roger Corman's interviews always offer illuminating insight into the filmmaking business and its trends and turns.

So: Fair amounts of gore, a Heavy Metal magazine vibe, and a haunting ending I wasn't expecting. Cool stuff.

Wendy's Films of 2010 #105: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

There isn't a whole lot of... anything to say about this movie. I never watched the cartoon, so that I suppose wasn't an area of potential disappointment, but it also meant that I had no previous affection for any of the characters so my interest in the film as a whole wasn't very high to begin with. I actually only watched the movie because of circumstance; I was bored and comfortable on the couch and someone in the room put it on the television. Luckily I have a sense of humour so I didn't go mad, but I would never ever recommend this film on any level whatsoever. It's trash, but not in a good way by any means. In my last review I wrote that Plan 9 From Outer Space was so terrible that it was awesome, but I also spoke of a different kind of movie, one that is terrible but in a mediocre kind of way. This is that movie. Through other reviews I've read it seems even people who loved G.I. Joe as a kid disliked it, or perhaps it's because they loved it as a kid that they hated this new version so much.

The one positive thing I can say is that if you're looking for nothing but mindless action, you could potentially enjoy this movie. It has a lot of explosions, shooting and destruction, which is the only part that I gained any entertainment from. Yay for the destruction of the Eiffel Tower! I suppose... View this one at your own risk.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New to the Store: Week of 23 Nov 2010


Avatar (extended)
Bangkok Adrenaline
Countdown to Zero
Disappearance of Alice Creed, The
Eat Pray Love
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Expendables, The (also BluRay)
I'm Still Here
Lennon Naked
Liberté (Freedom)
Pillars of the Earth, The
Spongebob Squarepants: Legends of Bikini Bottom


Absolute Power
Dead Pool, The (Dirty Harry 5)
Enforcer, The (Dirty Harry 3)
Heartbreak Ridge
Japanese Wife Next Door Part 2, The
Nikkatsu Roman Porno Trailer Collection, The
Sudden Impact (Dirty Harry 4)
Terminal City Ricochet
Zappa, Frank: Torture Never Stops

Wendy's Films of 2010 #104: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1958)

I was invited over for a movie night this night, unsure about what the film would bring, but flying saucers and aliens waking the dead into a potential zombie vampire army weren't the first things on my mind.

It's always hard to say whether or not this films are good or bad. It's usually more appropriate to appreciate them on a level of terrible or awesome... or both. Plan 9 From Outer Space is perfectly described by both of these words simultaneously: it's a piece of crap that is so crappy that it has become awesome once more. The acting is poor, the effects may be some of the worst I've ever seen, but without these qualities the movie would likely have been lost in the void made for movies that are neither good nor bad. Movies I've either never heard of or would never care to see. Luckily this one is filled with terrible awesomeness, flying saucers hanging from fishing line, tombstones made of cardboard. It also has the luck of starring Bela Lugosi as the "Ghoul Man" and Vampira as "Vampire Girl." It's filled with outstanding moments that you and your friends will hopefully thoroughly enjoy for some time to come. There isn't a whole lot more to say about this old sci fi classic, it's worth your time if you're feeling like a bunch of cheese wrapped in alien vampire bacon.

Maggie 2010: A Diatribe About Alien Morality

#118. The Abyss

Sometimes customers ask me why Gen X doesn't have a special director's section for James Cameron (Aliens, The Terminator, T2, Titanic, Avatar, etc). Rest assured, the power duo of our fine establishment has delightfully catty answers more than worth the one-on-one inquiries, but I'm happy to say I've finally found my own, five-word rejoinder to the issue, which goes a little like this:

"Have you seen The Abyss?!"

Forget the insulting alien/"primitive cultures" let's-all-focus-on-the-white-man's-destiny! narrative of Avatar: if you want really asinine alien foils, you've gotta watch this P.O.S. 1989 film.

See, there's this ballistic missile submarine lost in a deep ocean trench that needs to be salvaged, so the U.S. sends in a SEAL team to retrieve its warhead via an experimental underwater oil platform. One member of the drop team is Dr. Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who conveniently has an estranged husband, Bud (Ed Harris), to contend with on the oil rig -- a common enough device in disaster flicks that you have to wonder if couples in movies ever repair their broken relationships through non life-or-death means.

Meanwhile, the weather's getting really shitty and strange creatures (Non-Terrestrial Intelligent Lifeforms) pop up with enough frequency that one of the team members, Lt. Hiram Coffey (Michael Biehn), eventually tweaks due to High Pressure Nervous Syndrome (and with a name like Coffey, no one saw this coming?). Being military and all, he thus wants to blow up whatever's lurking in the deep, while everyone else thinks that isn't such a good idea. Merriment and death ensue.

Okay, so that's not too spoiler-y, but this next part will be--because when I invest a couple hours in a film I tend to get really pissed off when the payoff is a patently absurd use of alien species as deus ex machina. I'm looking at you, Knowing!

So (SPOILER) Bud and the gang foil Coffey to a degree, but he's still managed to deploy the warhead they were all sent to retrieve in the first place. Thus, somebody's gotta go deeper than any human's ever gone before to disarm it, and Bud bravely volunteers for the task. On his way down he's texting the old school way, via arm-mounted computer device, and he and his wife fix all their assorted problems while he waits to die. (Actually, this is pretty convenient, as marital resolutions go.) But wait! He doesn't die after all, because those strange lights he sees at the end aren't just from the pressures of deep sea diving: they're signs of an alien mothership, where an alien/angel figure takes him and saves his life. How sweet.

Oh, but it gets sweeter. With thousand-foot tsunamis just hanging around the world over, these aliens admit to Bud that they`re responsible for all the crappy near-apocalyptic conditions on the surface. The reason? Well, they flash TV images of war and poverty at Bud, implicitly demanding that he account or atone for human monstrosities. Bud offers his average-and-decent-working-guy rejoinder, then asks them why they aren`t just wiping humans off the planet if we`re so terrible. The aliens` response is priceless: they flash pictures of the text messages Bud sent to his wife about loving her and the duty of sacrifice. Aw. Cue the rolling back of these massive tsunamis, and when Bud and the gang are returned to the surface, it`s with the feel-good message that the aliens would just like us to be a little nicer to each other from here on out. Smiling military officials on the surface seem to agree. Double aw.

You know, it`s hard enough trying to comprehend how people wrap their heads around an omnipotent being`s justification in wiping out most all of creation in a massive flood for the sins of certain adults, but when you try to suggest that an incredibly advanced alien civilization would a) watch human transmissions so selectively as to miss every single feel-good TV program promoting all the good things people also do, b) be more willing to commit genocide themselves rather than just put a warning buoy around the whole solar system to warn other alien species away from our nuisance planet, and c) change their (selectively wrought!) verdict for the fate of the entire human race on the basis of a single text message... you lose me. You really, really lose me.

Dear James Cameron: Aliens with the technology to interfere so profoundly in human affairs are probably not morons, unless you`re also considering how moronic it would be for any more advanced civilization to bother with a species as idiotic as ours at all. You yourself KNOW this, because somehow you managed not to fuck up the very movie Aliens (thank you, Ridley Scott, for all your help in this regard--though that certainly doesn`t give you a pass for Robin Hood)!

With Avatar, Cameron at least had the weak excuse of lifting an overdone story from many other venues--so the stupidity of Pocahantar with Wolves is not entirely his own. To my mind, however, The Abyss gets no such free pass. It`s just (dear reader, you were waiting for this: be honest) Abyssmal. And that is my new personal reason for being proud to work at a video store with a No James Cameron Director Section Policy in stringent effect.

Also, Titanic. But that`s a whole other can of worms.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #83: The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

Still insatiable
hungry for monster movies
I watch Black Lagoon

There are embarrassingly huge gaps in my cinema history, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon has been on my 'to watch' list for years and on my mind for the past few months. Finally saw it, and was surprised by how much I liked it. Great atmosphere, great monster, and an environmental subtext I hadn't been expecting. There's a shot where the leading lady tosses an unwanted cigarette into the creature's lagoon, and the camera moves below the surface to the face of the creature, who watches silently. Thanks to how it's shot the cigarette becomes invasive, and, more importantly, insulting. This is some of the earliest environmental awareness I've seen in a Hollywood film, sci-fi fear of toxic waste and nuclear war aside. There's a scene where poison is dumped into the lagoon to force the creature out of hiding, and the comatose fish that litter the water's surface highlights the disregard for the natural world that the scientists, behaving more like hunters, are exhibiting.

The creature itself looks awesome, and the amount of understanding and sympathy we find in him makes for great monster cinema.

So: A thoroughly satisfying classic.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #82: Pig Hunt (2008)

Fangoria Magazine's foray into horror film production is a welcome experiment. Of the handful of films they've produced so far, I've only managed to see Pig Hunt because I was drawn to the dark and epic boar on the cover.

I'd heard it said that with Pig Hunt, the filmmakers realised that having a giant boar as a nemesis makes for demanding special effects, so they decided to throw a bunch of other dangerous obstacles in their way. Rednecks. Dangerous hippies. Lesser boars. This is for the most part effective, but in the end I found myself wanting Moby Dick in the forest far too much to reach any full appreciation.

The soundtrack is pretty nifty thanks to it having been partially composed by slap-bass demi-god Les Claypool, of Primus fame. He's also in the movie, as a violent redneck priest. The only kind of redneck priest, I suppose.

The giant pig, once it hits, is puppetous and satisfying for it. In general, if you've got the choice between low-budge CGI or low-budge practical effects, you'd better pick the latter. At the very least, your actors have something physical to contend with. Who doesn't want to watch a giant and slimy pig puppet crunch into a human being?

So: Has its moments, but the characters are mostly boring. This one's a maybe.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 #103: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

When a dame walks into Sam Spade's detective office and says she's got a problem, he and his partner take interest and help her out. Unfortunately Spade's partner meets a dead end (get it?) that night and Spade has to go on without him, figuring out what several men, this dame and a statue called The Maltese Falcon have in common. It's a great detective picture and film noir - fit for its time and well worth your time. It has all you need: a beautiful woman, ugly men, Humphrey Bogart, intrigue and guns. As usual, Bogart gives a top notch performance, with the perfect mixture of charming potential lover and cynical, yet still honourable, detective. Bogart is at the epitome of his own persona in this film, along with Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep (another fantastic film.) Others in the cast include siren, dame and love interest Mary Astor, and Peter Lorre (originally László Löwenstein of Austria and Fritz Lang's M) plays his usual foreigner as Joel Cairo, who attempts to get his hands on the statue. How does the mystery resolve? Who dies and who lives? Will Spade end up with the woman or die the same way as his partner? Give this great classic a shot and find out for yourself. 

New to the Store: Week of 16 Nov 2010: He Doesn't Need a Name to Make You Dead


Aaah! Zombies!!
Captain Abu Raed
Christmas Carol, A (2010) (also BluRay)
Crime, A
Doctor Who: Series 5
Don't Look Back (Ne te retourne pas)
Door, The
Fear Me Not
Four-Faced Liar, The
Is It Just Me?
Kids Are All Right, The
Last Airbender, The (also BluRay)
Nature of Existence, The
Office, The: Overtime (Digital Shorts Collection)
Republic of Doyle: Season 1
Ticked Off Trannies with Knives
Why Lie? I Need a Drink


Forbidden Dreams
Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters, The
Metropolis: "Complete" Edition
Monte Walsh
Night of the Hunter, The (Criterion) (also BluRay)
Puppet Master Collection v.1 (Puppet Master / Puppet Master 2: His Unholy Creations / Puppet Master 3: Toulon's Revenge)
Puppet Master Collection v.2 (Puppet Master 4: The Demon / Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter / Puppet Master 6: Curse of the Puppet Master)
Puppet Master Collection v.3 (Puppet Master 7: Retro Puppet Master / Puppet Master: The Legacy / Puppet Master: Axis of Evil)
Rest Stop: The Collection (Dead Ahead / Don't Look Back)
Sexy Radio
Van Damme Collection (Bloodsport / Time Cop)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #81: Blue Planet (2001)

This BBC series apparently five years in the making is narrated by none other than the nature doc legend himself, David Attenborough. His wisened voice has lent itself well to the nature documentary for some time, and does no disservice to the sea. If you haven't treated yourself to a lengthy and thoroughly entertaining series like this yet, you better get on that while there are still animals in the ocean to appreciate.

As you'd expect, you'll be given stunning footage of the intricacies of undersea life, running through the various kinds of sea environments that the world has to offer. You'll be given footage and information that might even turn off the squeamish - nature, children's stories tell us, isn't exactly nice, or unfalteringly pretty. Easy to forget, but the series will offer up some firm reminders that majesty is a thing of power, and power is very often a thing of violence. When you're not seeing amazing beauty, you might be seeing killer whales play tennis with a baby seal, or the eggy, undulating jangly bits of lobsters ready to give birth.

So: Awesome. An emotional roller coaster at times, but in the healthiest way.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #80: Until The Light Takes Us (2008)

I'd heard about a handful of documentaries that have popped up over the past two or three years tackling Norwegian black metal and its turbulent history as their subject. When one actually appeared in front of me after I drew a pentagram in ketchup on the floor and lit some scented candles, I decided to give it a watch. Being big on Norwegian black metal myself, I was wary of being sold a cheap hunk of fan-service meant to do little more than nod in my direction for an hour and 20.

Opening up the DVD package I found a pretentious little booklet with a glowing review, an essay by the directors telling you what theoretical approach to use while watching, and a Fredric Jameson quote. Huh. Unexpected. But I should have expected this - with black metal having become a satanic farce, there's been a real push among aficionados to re-contextualise the subgenre and understand it as a clear instance of youth culture. And, moreover, as punk did before it, be recognised as a viable movement with an ethos of its own.

I'm happy to report that Until The Light Takes Us doesn't hammer that notion down into your skull as fiercely as the booklet does. Instead it follows the daily lives of four or five key figures in black metal history - of special note, Fenriz of Darkthrone and Varg Vikernes of Burzum, the latter of which was, at the time of filming, still in jail for murder and the arson of historic church sites. Other figures from the metal scene of the period pop in and out of the film, but the most engrossing portraits are found in those main two. They are old friends and they haven't spoken to each other in years. They don't come together in the film, as there is a palpable sadness that forces them to leave it all to time. It culminates during a scene where Fenriz is shown footage, shown earlier, of Varg speaking well of him and his music, but Varg, as always, is possessed by a persecution complex, and you can hear the accusation of abandonment in his voice. Fenriz actually holds back tears and laments over the past with little word.

There's a lot of psychoses on display in the film. His obsession with persecution aside, Varg hints at anti-semitism, Hellhammer explicitly approves of the killing of homosexuals, Fenriz tries to figure out where it all went sour, and a younger black metaller takes part in an ultra grim performance art piece proposed by a local painter. All reflect on what the genre is supposed to be about, and their points slowly converge. When all is said and done, we've been given a look at the really interesting and sympathetic people that invented a new mode of metallic expression, and the really interesting and awful ones that are an inseparable part of it too.

For black metal fans, you'll get the bonus of seeing intimate interviews with people you've probably mostly read about, and rare rehearsal footage you might have never seen before.

So: Surprisingly good. Worth a watch for fans and non-fans alike.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New to the Store for the Week of 9 November: The Blood-Soaked Fists of Friendship


Antichrist (also BluRay)
Bodybuilder and I, The
Californication: Season 3
Charlie St. Cloud
Detroit Metal City
God Delusion Debate, The
Grown Ups (also BluRay)
Hush! (UK)
Ice Blues
Lie to Me: Season 2
Light Gradient
Love Ranch
Lovely, Still
Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated
Pere de mes enfants, Le (The Father of My Children)
Ramona and Beezus
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (also BluRay)
Sherlock: Season 1
Stuck (Balderson)
Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam
Three and Out
3 Saisons
Tudors, The: Final Season
Wild Hunt, The
Zombie Girl


Bill Moyers on Faith and Reason
MST3K: Bride of the Monster
MST3K: Devil Doll
MST3K: Devil Fish
MST3K: Robot Monster
Shaolin Mantis
Shaolin Rescuers
Soul of the Sword
Subspecies I-III

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Maggie 2010: An Evening of Atheism and Faith

#117. The God Delusion Debate

I'm a secular humanist--an atheist, that is, who much prefers self-identifying by what I do believe in, and not by what I don't. I also use the term "secular humanist" to emphasize a broader community--of Christian humanists, Jewish humanists, Muslim humanists, etc--with which I ally myself over nihilists of any stripe, even atheistic ones. For this reason, despite thoroughly enjoying Dawkins' works on science and nature, I steered clear of The God Delusion, a work that explicitly argues (among other things) that even modest, personal theism is complicit in the atrocities of extremism. And yet I pounced on The God Delusion Debate the first chance I got.

The reason for this difference in reaction was that last word in the title: "debate." As it turned out, I was thoroughly looking forward to a fair discussion of The God Delusion, and the Fixed-Point Foundation, a Bible Belt organization committed to defending Christianity, seemed an especially intriguing choice to sponsor such an event. That said, I didn't know what to expect when Prof. Richard Dawkins and his opponent, John Lennox, a professor of mathematics at Oxford (and the philosophy of science at Green Templeton College) sat down with US Federal Judge William H. Pryor (moderator) to respond to each of the six theses of The God Delusion. Nonetheless, while the very existence of this civil public debate in its part of the world was impressive, I was rather immediately disappointed by limitations in structure that stripped the whole affair of any status of true debate.

Though the host of the event alluded to "Christian charity" in giving Dawkins the first and the final word of the night, the actual "debate" involved Pryor reading an excerpt from The God Delusion, then Dawkins being given five minutes to expand upon that quotation, and finally Lennox responding to the topic for five minutes, before all parties were expected to move on to the next thesis. Very quickly, this became a very unsatisfactory structure for thoughtful discourse, as Lennox's counters would invariably leave tremendous points of contention that Dawkins then struggled to answer in the five minutes allocated to his explication of the next thesis topic. Later in the "debate," the awkward format of the affair also left Lennox attempting to juggle response with thoughtful comment on the next thesis--to the extent, even, that his closing remarks were abbreviated to a mere two minutes, out of deference to the live TV audience also tuning in.

Pryor himself observed, late in the evening, that their time "has been used a lot by free exchange," but while this comment was made as gentle reprimand toward both debating parties for regular breeches of the event's bizarre debating structure, it was precisely the lack of free exchange that so weakened the experience as a whole.

However, the structure of the event was not its only weakness. Despite being an advocate of Dawkins, and never having encountered Lennox before, I must say that Lennox was easily the more composed of the two, while Dawkins, clearly uncomfortable with the format of the night's events, spoke with a startling vagueness for which he can only hold himself accountable. More puzzling yet, Dawkins even permitted, as the event progressed, an unfathomable slip regarding Hitler, such as perpetuates (by association with Stalin and Mao) a gross misunderstanding among many Bible Belt theists about the religious beliefs Nazism took to such monstrous extremes. Certainly, Dawkins grew more confident and coherent as the debate progressed (and indeed, as he and Lennox pushed the event's format to its limits), but Lennox scored more clear wins (by applause alone) in the audience, and for me, at least, Dawkin's explanations for his more steadfast and extreme statements in The God Delusion went weakly answered in the course of the actual event.

Would I recommend this film to others? Absolutely--but more as a teaching tool, a clear demonstration of why true debate is so important, and why no cult of ideology should ever blind any of us to the importance of good, strong argument. As Winston Churchill once said, "There's nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view that I hold dear." The God Delusion Debate is rife with these--but also, I hope, the seed of more thoughtful and truly engaged debates to come.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #79: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Santa Claus (1959, MST3K Version in 1993)

Forever at war.

Not sure what MST3k is? Read this first!

Apparently Santa was not in high standing in Mexico in '59. El Santo certainly was, but Santa and Christmas were, it was felt, a distinctly American tradition that had little place in the imaginations of Mexican children. How best to sell the Santa meme to Mexico? Why, the only way to properly bridge the gap is to put Santa in the service of god! You know, make him lock horns with satan and his minions! Kid movie stuff. The MST crew have a field day.

Santa lives in a cloud fortress made of crystal and filled with surreal anthropomorphic contraptions that monitor Earth. These contraptions were made by none other than fucking Merlin. Merlin lives in the fortress with Santa. Oh, and an army of 6 year old toy-making workers from every nation on the planet. These must be the purest child-souls to be found on Earth, to be working for god's newest general in a magic cloud city. The elves are nowhere to be found, and this will be a strange movie indeed. I can only assume that they, like the angels before them, grew jealous and rebelled and were cast down amidst the fire.

Soon enough we get a bizarre sequence with Santa playing organ and singing along with each nation's representatives in turn, and let me tell you, it is a badly dubbed buffet of racial stereotyping.

I'd have to say this episode possesses one of my favourite MST3K moments to date, a moment where the clockwork reindeer, having just been awakened from their year-long slumber, begin to laugh along with a merry Santa. Now, the reindeer's jaws open and shut in a jerking, string-pulled fashion and they can never blink. Their laugh grows into what I'm sure is an unintentionally disturbing cackle, a cackle the guys of course are compelled, in the evil spirit of Christmas, to join in on. It then becomes an unholy chorus of laughter akin to the scene in Evil Dead where Ash has his first true mental breakdown.

It's possibly the most offensive MST I've seen, and certainly one of the darkest. Given the subject matter of the film in front of them, the boys aren't afraid to make fun of every national culture they can think of in the name of fairness and in step with the flick, and poke fun at the rammed down your throat religiosity and fear of hell that this film tries to install into children.

So: Pretty damn awesome. Still with a bit a Hallowe'en in the brain yet ready for Christmas, this might be perfect for you sinners.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #78: The Mummy's Hand (1940)

Continuing my march into monster movie mania, The Mummy's Hand!

A lot of light comedy and not as much hammy horror as I had hoped. You do get a bit of it though - the sort where there's a slow-moving monster creeping closer and closer to a half-asleep love interest and EEEEEEEEK other love interest bursts in and BLAM BLAM but too late! Her dad is maybe dead but no he's just knocked out cold and she's gone! Oh noes! If only it had more of that and the lurchy dusty mummy responsible for the whole mess it might have been worth sitting through. We've seen the mummy before, we don't really need him saved up for a big reveal or final act. Turn it loose. Let the new Egyptian empire begin its ancient reign of terror anew! Bricka bracka firecracka' siss boom bah! Go Mummy Go, Amun-Ra-Ra-Ra!

Instead you'll have some dull character set-up that ends up accomplishing little by the time the curse hits home. A good chunk of the movie is spent on a magician character's various parlour tricks, or rather, the edits that make them work. A buffoony support character practices one of tricks throughout the first half of the movie so he could, I thought, use it at an opportune moment and save the day later. Turns out it was just filler. Like the stock footage they used from the first movie with Boris Karloff edited out.

So: Not terribly worth it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 #102: Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

When a dreaded witch sees the charming wizard Howl flirting with a young woman named Sofi, she curses her, turning the girl into an old woman. I find Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle remarkable because it's a film geared towards kids, but it has more substance and heart than most "adult" films I know. It's filled with hope, romance, magic and fear, not to mention a thousand other possible descriptors. It makes me feel as though I'd have to see it again before being able to write a proper review.

I will say, however, that I have long ceased to listen to people who say that cartoons as a whole aren't as worthwhile or developed as live action films, and this one in particular serves as a wonderful example. Apart from its subject matter, it is a beautiful film, brimming with stunning images, and capable of rivalling many live action cinematographers. Sofi's story is one that intends not only to amaze with adventure, but to show that the heart matters far more than beauty. This is a message that I think children (and adults) should take to heart, and hopefully showing them this and others of Miyazaki's films can help all people towards understanding the human spirit a little more.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 #101: Duck Soup (1933)

The Marx Brothers are pretty renowned for having a high standard of classic slapstick and intelligent quick-talking humour. Most people would at least recognize Groucho, even if they couldn't name him on the spot. I only remember bits and pieces of my first Marx Brothers movie, Horse Feathers, but I remember having fun, and that's what comedy's all about. Duck Soup was the last of the Marx Brothers films to feature all four brothers: Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo. In it, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) becomes president of Freedonia after the excessively rich Mrs. Teasdale declares she won't provide money for the bankrupt country until Firefly is in office. His antics include insulting Teasdale without hesitation while simultaneously flattering in an attempt to gain her fortune, appointing a street vendor Secretary of War, and starting a war with neighbouring Sylvania. One of my favourite scenes is depicted in the picture above, where Harpo's character perfectly mimics Firefly, convincing him he's looking into a mirror. Each movement is perfectly timed and executed, and it has been (as Wikipedia tells me) copied by several other comics including The Three Stooges, Bugs Bunny and the crew from Family Guy.

The film is thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of classic, black and white comedy from a time when being funny was a talent and not a Hollywood-devised calculation.

New to the Store: Week of 2 November


Blanc comme neige (White As Snow)
Cars Toon: Mater's Tall Tales (also BluRay)
Everyone Else
Love and Distrust
Metalocalypse: Season 3
Pacific, The: Complete Series (also BluRay)
Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm
Plan B
Smash his Camera
Star Wars: Clone Wars: Season 2
This Movie Is Broken
Toy Story 3 (also BluRay)
V: Season 1
Wallander: Series 2
Way We Get By, The
Wild Grass
You Don't Know Jack


Blast from the Past
Born to Fight Trilogy
Busty Bombshells of the Atomic Age
Gamera, Guardian of the Universe / Gamers 2: Attack of Legion
House (also BluRay)
Judge John Deed: Season 2
Kansas City Bomber
Larry Sanders Show, The: Season 2
Not of This Earth
Paths of Glory (Criterion) (also BluRay)
Seven Samurai (BluRay)
Terror Within, The / Dead Space
Tropic of Cancer

Maggie 2010: Zombie Vs Zombie

#115. Dead Outside

I sat down a couple weeks ago with two of the latest zombie/zombie-esque flicks that seemed to have similar plot-lines, because I'm all for movie death matches and hey! zombies! Enough said.

To this end, both The Dead Outside and Mutants follow a couple of survivors in an embedded post-apocalyptic scenario where huge swatches of the population are, at the very least, dead inside. In both films, other survivors enter the picture; and also in both films, the introduction of other people makes a real mess of things. (Preliminary conclusion: Be wary of strangers when surviving in a post-apocalyptic world.) Despite these similarities, however, the two films are very different -- both in breadth of execution, and in overall quality.

The first of these "zombie" flicks, The Dead Outside is very much an independent film, but I don't want to give it a pass on these grounds for some of its blatant weaknesses, including a script that features some rough transitions (the worst being a really painful line leading into a chunk of exposition) and a partiality for shots so darkly lit that it's often difficult to make out what's going on. (Read: One can use natural darkness effectively, by heightening our other sensory inputs [the chase scene in Dirty Harry comes especially to mind], but sadly, this wasn't done here.)

Strengths in this film by Kerry Anne Mullaney absolutely include the acting of lead survivor, April (Sandra Louise Douglas), who harbours a secret absolutely justifying her prickly reaction to outsiders when they emerge. Even Daniel (Alton Milne), the wayward traveller who finds the homestead she's been maintaining in the wake of a deadly infection, plays his wide-eyed role adequately. Furthermore, the secret the lead character harbours creates interesting opportunities to expand on zombie/rage virus canon -- but sadly, these aren't developed anywhere near as well as they could be. A third walks into the the two survivors' midst, stirs shit up for a while, and in the aftermath of all that hoopla more than a pleasing ambiguity remains regarding next steps. Indeed, the film ends on a meandering and lack-lustre note belying the promise of its premise (say that three times fast!), and seems very much a waste of some splendidly selected scenery and an exceptionally broody lead.

#116. Mutants

Mutants, on the other hand, harbours a very similar secret in the form of its lead character, Sonia (Hélène de Fougerolles), but this French film by David Morlet is executed with a mind to the well-tread canonical ground into which it ventures. Truly, some of the shots in this haunting film, which adopts underground, vehicular, and hospice locations to the credit of some exemplary attack sequences, call to mind the best and most disconcerting scenarios in the acclaimed Left 4 Dead series, and the variation of weapon choices also speaks to a writer and director well versed in zombie survival lore.

But most impressively of all, the human beings at the beginning of this film act like human beings -- which means sometimes people get shot up for No Good Reason, and yes! sometimes people make horrible, life-altering mistakes. Moreover, when the opening scenario occurs, setting into motion all of the events to follow, it isn't treated with over-the-top cinematic gravitas, but established above all for its senselessness. This is one director who truly understands that the greatest threat of all is always fellow human beings, and their propensity both for fear and for error.

Inevitably, not all points or characters in this film sustain that ridiculously high standard -- one female character verges on comical in her blatant adherence to sycophantic stereotype; one misunderstood villain is turned into an over-the-top hero -- but as poor lead male Marco (Francis Renaud) struggles to retain some semblance of dignity and humanity while turning into a monster, and Sonia struggles to protect both him and the greater social order in the aftermath of their stake-out for rescue, some truly high calibre shots, conversations, and ideas emerge. Mutants is a quality addition to a genre that has already seen a lot, and well worth a viewing by any committed zombie fan.

Mike D Watches a Movie #2: The Wicker Man (2006)

What is this movie? Is it a thrilller? Is it horror? Is it comedy? I just don't know. Either way, it's a remake of the 1973 film starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee as a British detective and the lord of a pagan island off the coast of Scotland, respectively, but with Nicholas Cage as Edward and Ellen Burstyn as Lord Summersisle. While the original film was a rather interesting story about a Scottish police officer sent to investigate a case of a missing child on an island, who's deep Christian beliefs clash with those of the pagan islanders, the remake is just Nick Cage being a dick to people who's religion seems strange to him, while investigating a case brought to him on personal matters.

I really have a love-hate relationship with Nicholas Cage. I loved him in Raising Arizona and Kick Ass, and I hated him in Ghost Rider and Wild At Heart, so this movie really feels like the embodiment of my relationship with him. Some scenes, he plays his character very well, a police officer searching for his lost daughter on a mysterious island, and at other parts, I just want to laugh out loud at how ridiculous he's acting.

To classify this movie, I'd put it somewhere in the "Unintentional Comedy" category, along with the recent Dragonball: Evolution movie and Freddy Vs. Jason (although, that's debatable). It's good for a few cheap laughs, but all in all, it's not a very good movie. Watch it, laugh, then watch the original, because it will seem a whole lot better after this version. And remember, look out for the bees! The Bees!