Friday, February 26, 2010

A Town Called Panic and Three Films From Blockbuster

The film blew me away. I laughed and laughed and laughed. Aubier and Patar do stop-motion animation with little figurines that look like the plastic and metal toys popularized in the fifties (think plastic army men if I'm not being clear). The guy who did the intro at the theater said that they made about 200 different little toys of each character that they used for various poses during the course of the film. The main characters are Horse, Cowboy, and Indian. Horse wears the pants in the family, so to speak, and the other two are pretty much childish, trouble-making hangers on. Steven, who yells all the time, lives across the road on a farm with his wife. In their feature-film debut, Cowboy and Indian accidentally order too many bricks to make Horse a barbecue for his birthday, and all kinds of unexpected things happen as a result. I mean seriously unexpected. And hilarious. Did I mention that?

It was a TV show before-- twenty episodes were made, about 5 minutes per episode. I discovered that they are available on iTunes (albeit dubbed, unfortunately) and I plan on purchasing them in the near future. A Town Called Panic cheered me up like few films have in recent memory.

John, we stopped at Blockbuster on the way back from the film to get a present for a party Ethan's going to tomorrow. I picked up American Splendor for two bucks, and Stranger Than Paradise and The Edukators for four dollars apiece. Paradise is one of the few Jarmusch films I haven't seen yet, so I particularly excited to find that one. Edukators I hadn't heard of beforehand, but the premise seemed interesting. Splendor I'd seen awhile ago, but I really enjoyed it. And it was two bucks.

Conversations 2010, part 3

Brandon, I'm so happy you liked Vera Cruz- I haven't seen a lot of westerns, so I don't know if my taste is any good. That said, I watched it because it was mentioned in the liner notes to Seven Samurai (Criterion Collection), so I reckon that should be recommendation enough. Sadly, since it was one of the first westerns I saw, I hold all of the others I've seen up to it, and nothing quite compares. Have you seen Cat Ballou or The Professionals? The former is a Jane Fonda pic, but don't let that prejudice you against it- Lee Marvin won an Oscar for his performance. It's supposed to be a comedy, but there's a lot in there that's not funny. Look for the old man in the outlaw hideout who forgets his name. There's something poignant being said behind the comedy, I'm sure, but I'd have to watch it again to tell you what it is. The Professional's ending was kind of disappointing to me, but the segment where the handful of them are planning and executing the attack on the Mexican outlaw gang's hq is really exciting.

You asked, Brandon, about middling reviews being off-putting... I'd say I'm with Adrienne in that I tend to decide whether or not I want to see films based on how I like the trailers. I'll read the occasional review, and if I want to see something in the theater that I'm not sure of, I'll check the tomatometer without reading the reviews to get a basic sense of how it was received-- being sure, of course, to check the common folks' percentage as well as the critics'. The difference between the two can tell you a lot, I think. But I tend to like to go into films blind. I don't have the attention span to read about a film I haven't seen and have no frame of reference for. Afterwards, though, I will often check out reviews to see how my opinion compares with others', professional or otherwise.

John, check out my comment on your Ashes, Ashes post. I'll only add that I envy your find at Hollywood-- I'd say that of all your purchases this month, that was probably the most justifiable, despite it being the most costly. I got some great stuff at a Media Play going-out-of-business sale a few years back, and still don't regret the couple hundred I spent on movies, music, and magazines. One of my prize finds was a Sundance 10-film 25th Anniversary retrospective:

"This collection celebrates the Sundance Institute's 25th anniversary with 10 essential indies. From Steven Soderbergh's breakout hit, SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, to the innovative biopic AMERICAN SPLENDOR, the best of the fest is found here. This boxed set of Sundance favorites also includes CLERKS, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, SMOKE SIGNALS, AMERICAN MOVIE, BOYS DON'T CRY, IN THE BEDROOM, REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES, and CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS. Please see individual titles for synopsis information. " (description stolen from some online store's site)

It retailed for about a hundred bucks and I got it for about twenty. It's deals like that that keep us collecting, you know. "There are more deals like that out there, so if I stop looking, I'll miss them!" I understand all to well, John. I wholeheartedly support your efforts at reform, but know that I'm in the trenches with you, brother.

In other news, I'm going to see the animated A Town Called Panic at the Dryden tonight. I'll likely write about it later. I just wanted mention it, John, to make you jealous.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oh, Watson!

There is a great scene in Sherlock Holmes and the Pearl of Death where Watson is gluing a clipped newspaper article into a scrapbook. He inadvertently gets it stuck on his arm and then goes about a good five minute tirade of "deductive reasoning" before he discovers it stuck there. It's absolutely hilarious physical comedy without being demeaning in the least. It's moments like those that make these films so eminently watchable. My son had been pestering us for a good week to watch this latest one, he likes them so much. Pearl of Death is one of the better films in the series, though with every few I watch, I seem to like a new one best. I just got disc 1 and 2 through inter-library loan of the very nice 5-disc Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection, and am looking forward to seeing the famous Hound of the Baskervilles on disc 1. Rathbone may be the headliner, but I think Nigel Bruce is actually the star of these glorious Holmes films. Rathbone is a great straight man, but by himself, nobody cares who he thinks is on first, if you know what I mean. Okay, that's a little unfair- Rathbone's Holmes is actually kind of an ass at times, and is consistently condescending to pretty much everyone he comes in contact with, which is great fun to watch. As I've mentioned before, it's a wonder that Watson hangs out with him, given Watson's seemingly extensive social network. But their friendship seems genuine, even if Holmes never really gives Watson his due. Another interesting moment was a scene in which Holmes attempts to comfort the housekeeper of the Creeper's latest victim- he gives her a stiff one-armed hug, followed by a few very awkward pats on the shoulder. It's a small detail, but I thought it lent great insight into Holmes's character and is another one of the reasons I can't get enough of these guys.
[Note: my son very astutley noted recently that the protagonist from Disney's The Great Mouse Detective was named Basil like Basil Rathbone, as well as cartoon Watson's similarities in character to Nigel Bruce's Watson. He's a clever boy, he is.]

I am quite a bit behind on both your blogs, John and Brandon, but I did read at least a portion of your comments on Shutter Island, which I, too, saw on opening night (with Adrienne, no less, a fellow Scorsese fan). I was thrilled to see Von Sydow in the film as well, except that my first exposure to the actor was in the very underrated Strange Brew. So when I saw Seventh Seal, I was all, "Hey, that's the guy with the evil insane hockey players!" I can't seem to completely shake that association, so seeing him in movies always makes me smile for all the wrong reasons. Anyway, he's a great character actor, and his presence really added substance to the film.

What I've been saying about Shutter Island is that it's better than 80% of anything out there, but it's not Scorsese's best work. I thought that the story was well-told, but the plot was not terribly inventive. Not that it needs to be, but if you're going to blow me away, you need to tell a really new story or do it in a really new way. Shutter Island was neither. It was great fun, and I'd watch it again (probably will with my wife when it comes out on DVD), and I know there are details I definitely missed (though I did notice the missing glass on at least one occasion), but placed side by side with the likes of Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, and even Bringing Out the Dead (which is actually one of my favorite Scorsese films, if you can believe it), it's missing something. John, I liked Ruffalo, too. He is very underused as an actor in Hollywood and it's a shame. I would even say I loved the film- but I also loved Hot Rod, so it just depends on what you're in the mood for :). I definitely want to see Scorsese do more of this kind of film, though. It seems to me that maybe he chose something safe because he's not used to working in this particular genre, so maybe next time we'll see more of his trademark edginess.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Conversations 2010, part 2

Slasher films (and horror films in general) are a particular fancy of mine, so it is unfortunate, John and Brandon, that neither of you are aficionados. Though, Brandon, you do seem to watch horror films more than occasionally, so I'm not quite sure where you stand on the topic. I liked horror as a preteen, but my tastes moved to science fiction as a teenager and only in the last 7 years or so (partly due to Adrienne's enthusiasm for them) have I really pursued a working knowledge of horror. I will admit that my back catalog is severely lacking, but I have tried to remedy that recently (Creature from the Black Lagoon, House of Dracula, Vampyr, and Dementia 13 being some of the examples of old horror standards I've watched in the last few years). I have, however, seen quite a number of horror films from the eighties to the present, and they have proven to not only be endlessly entertaining for me, but also, as a whole more than in parts, hold definite cultural and social value in my estimation.

All that said, I have a very high opinion of Rob Zombie where his films are concerned. I have not seen Halloween 2 yet, but I did see the first one as well as House of a Thousand Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. He pushes the limits of gore, so this stuff is not for the faint of heart. But if you want to see what he's really capable of, that's definitely where you need to start. What I find significant and compelling about his work is that he has a disturbing and uncanny way of making his bad guys sympathetic to the point of identification. You find yourself accidentally rooting for them, particularly by the end of Rejects-- despite their totally depraved beahvior throughout the film. His serial killers are human and he does not objectify them like so many other slasher films do. It's unsettling, but quite brilliant. He continued this theme in his remake of Halloween, but I think it's weaker because it's not his material. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the film. But when you're dealing with a horror icon as familiar as Michael Myers, it's hard to see him as anything else but the mindless killer he's been portayed as all along. We like objectifying our serial killers, because, if I can identify with a serial killer, what then does that make me? I really do think Zombie is trying to make a statement: on some level, we're all monsters, or at least capable of being monsters. It's something that we need to be reminded of from time to time, especially those of us in the middle class bubble.

A few other random notes...
-Werner Herzog is a director I have been interested in for some time. I've only seen Grizzly Man, Rescue Dawn, and Incident at Loch Ness (which he didn't direct, but co-wrote), but I want to see more.
-Avatar: if you're going to see it, John, see it in 3-D at the theater. Otherwise there's no rush. I agree with Brandon about the eco-sociopolitical stuff moving me, but it's a Hollywood film, ultimately. It's James Caemron, for crying out loud.
-Whip It: saw it because a friend wanted to see it and I loved it. Barrymore is a product of Hollywood from childhood to the present-- how is she able to make a film so down to earth? It put Kristen Wiig on the map for me. I thought she was fantastic.
-I can see no reason, based on the trailer and a quick look at the cast, to watch The Wolfman. Am I missing something? Shutter Island, on the other hand, I already have set plans to see.

Brandon, you mentioned liking westerns- have you seen Walker? It was one of the first I saw that got me hooked-- along with the previously mentioned Vera Cruz, High Noon, and The Magnificent Seven.


John and Brandon, I have a number of comments to make based upon several things the two of you have said, but before I get to that, I wanted to formally introduce you to my friend Adrienne, a fellow film buff and someone with whom I have seen quite a number of films (you would be proud, John, of how often she goes to the Dryden- she puts me to shame, for sure). Her taste in film is wide-ranging, but she particularly likes animation and horror films (feel free to correct me if I am wrong, Adrienne). Her blog is she doesn't write exclusively about movies, but on a fairly regular basis she will. I wanted to point you to a couple she has written recently: and her most recent post:, about the movie UP. I don't know much about your other tastes, Brandon, but John, you may be interested in the blog in general, which is about librarianship and books and life.
Adrienne, I have links to John's blog (Chasing Pictures) and Brandon's (storm and stress) on my profile page in Blogger. I thought I could bring you into the conversation at large, as I think you'd be interested in a number of the things we're discussing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

January's Films

Here's the list of films I watched in January. Though I'm choosing to only write about a handful of the ones I've seen, I'm happy to talk about any of them with anyone who's interested. In no particular order, with asterisks by the ones I particularly liked:

The Mark of Zorro* (Fairbanks, 1920)
G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (meh)
Apache (Lancaster)
Candleshoe* (Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver era, tons of fun from Disney's glory days)
I Love You, Man* (I did, I liked it- I watched all the special effects. 4 stars for Rudd's performance)
Sherlock Holmes and the Scarlet Claw* (great atmosphere)
Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman*
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Bruno (sorry again, Adrienne :(...)
Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (for the kid... ok, for me, too)
Sherlock Holmes : Terror By Night*
Sherlock Holmes: Dressed to Kill*
AstroBoy (blech- they ruined a classic with haphazard storytelling)
The Valley of Gwangi*
Battle for Terra
A Certain Kind of Death** (this blew me away- you should all see it, but not right after eating)
The Band's Visit* (great characters)
The Limits of Control* (something a little different from Jarmusch, but still very Jarmusch)
Avatar* (mind-boggling special effects)