Archive for April, 2012

I like these people. You should too.

Nick Offerman

Ron Swanson, as portrayed by Nick Offerman on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, is quite possibly the best character on network television today. This is no doubt partly due to stellar writing by a great staff. It is also due to the man who so embodies the character that you’re not sure where the actor ends and the part begins. Prior to landing the great role, Offerman made small guest appearances on various television shows and had minor roles in motion pictures. He need not worry about getting work these days, though. He’s hit it big with the type of character actors pray for. Ron Swanson is a constant source of some of the best lines in a stellar show. Internet memes rise because of his cynical, brutally honest character’s words and actions. Whether it’s the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness, ‘Drunk Ron Swanson’ dancing on an infinite loop, or Offerman’s own video of building a canoe, there’s absolutely no reason not to love the man, the myth and his ever-growing legend. Nick Offerman is the best friend I don’t have.

Peter Dinklage

Peter Dinklage won a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister in the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. I suspect strongly it won’t be his last. And if there’s any justice, he’ll have Oscars to go with them at some point. Dinklage first came to my attention as a lonely, little man who inherits an abandoned train station in 2003’s excellent The Station Agent. He solidified his utter coolness as the diminutive man who attends his closeted lover’s wake in both the original Death at a Funeral and its remake. Being a ‘little’ actor in Hollywood has traditionally been a thankless calling. And while Mr. Dinklage’s star is rising because of his acting as the wily imp, one gets the feeling he could read for any role he wanted and have a good shot of getting it. I look forward to seeing him starring in feature films for years to come. This man is a damn good actor. Period. He’s the best thing in a show that is quickly becoming one of my favorites and I will watch him in anything he’s in.

Roger Ebert

In the early 2000’s, famed movie reviewer Roger Ebert discovered he had thyroid cancer. He battled the cancer through many surgeries and treatment and ultimately lost most of his jaw and his voice. He’s recently had a prosthetic chin built to wear for TV appearances and a Scottish company, using recordings of his old reviews, developed a text-to-voice software program to give sound to his words. Roger does not shy from public appearances and I’m proud of him. I loved the old Siskel and Ebert movie review show. A Two Thumbs Up! review of a flick went a long way to determining if I would check out something I normally would not have. Ebert stands alone now after Siskel died many years ago. But his upward pointing thumb still holds power. Roger catches a lot of flak. He occasionally spoils big plot points in his reviews. He’s mostly dismissive of the horror genre. He’s sometimes comes off as a grumpy, old man. But the fact is that there are few people in the movie review game who have the breadth of knowledge or experience that he has. And if for no other reason than that, he will always have my respect.

Advertisements

Every once in a while, I’ll open up the vault to pull out a forgotten treasure or an underappreciated gem

The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

Director: Matthew Robbins

Starring: Helen Slater, Christian Slater, Peter Coyote, Yeardley Smith, Dean Stockwell

If you, like me, are from Corpus Christi, Texas then you know exactly why this movie is such a treasure.

If, in the more likely case, you’ve never heard of this fine 80’s gem, pull up a chair, throw on a jean jacket and allow me to expound on the many virtues on display in this criminally forgotten classic.

Helen Slater stars as the titular Billie Jean Davy, a lovely teenager growing up in a trailer park in Corpus Christi, the sparkling city by the sea and frequent target of hurricanes. She lives there with her brother, Binx, who is played by Christian Slater (no relation to Ms. Slater.) They spend their summer days riding around on Binx’s (such a stupid name) moped and swimming in a nearby waterhole.

At the swimming hole. NICE!

On just such an occassion, the siblings encounter a pack of nogoodniks whose advances were previously rejected at the Sonic Drive-In (Seriously, this movie is dripping in good old-fashioned Texas white trash.) Sexually frustrated by the virginal Billie Jean, the punks commandeer Binx’s moped and cause literally dozen’s of dollars of damage to it. I’m pretty sure you could buy a IPad for how much that POS probably cost.

Anyway, we are talking 80’s dollars here so that was a chunk of change and the Davy’s are dead set on getting recompense. To wit, they go to the thriving beach side souvenir store run by the father of the leader of the punks. The dad is an oily kind of dude but surely young Billie Jean has no reason to suspect ulterior motives when he invites her upstairs. Never mind the fact he’s got a murder van parked out back. Anyway, he offers up a proposal of an…indecent nature which she politely refuses because she’s already banging her volleyball coach.

MEANWHILE…Binx, doomed to a lifetime of idiocy by his name and the fact that he’s being played by Christian Slater, is downstairs rifling behind the counter like any normal person would do in the same situation. He finds a gun, Billie Jean comes racing down the stairs because she’s conflicted by her love for the oily daddy, teenage punk son walks in, there’s a whole Reservoir Dogs kinda thing, and the dad goes down from a grazing gunshot wound while our heroes go on the run.

Binx. Whatta douche.

If it sound’s like I’m making fun of the movie…well, I kind of am. But it’s out of love. It’s like that rich cousin you have who you might save from a vicious dog if someone else were watching. Might. Depends on how far away you are. Or how big the dog is.

It’s harmless fun filled with overwrought acting and it proudly bears one of those ridiculous plots where if someone just stopped for one second and said, “Hold on! Maybe we should just logically explain what’s going on and everyone will see we were in the right!” then there would be no movie. But no, Binx just grabs a gun and it all goes tits up which is why it’s great.

As I alluded to earlier, the film gets bonus points for being filmed in my hometown. More bonus points for featuring Peter Coyote of E.T fame, Yeardley Smith of Lisa Simpson fame, and a pre-Quantum Leap Dean Stockwell. There’s a whole teenage rebellion thing going on here with an out-of-left-field homage to Joan of Arc. The wicked good soundtrack features a killer title tune offered up by Pat Benatar who needed the money.

But all that goodness pales in comparison to the ultimate goodness. Inspired by Ms. of Arc, Billie Jean cuts her hair short to resemble the martyr. She dons a scuba top with cut-off sleeves, fingerless gloves, dangly earrings, and heavy eyeshadow. She’s steps from the shadows in the backyard of the mansion where her merry band of criminals have take refuge. Filmed by the young man who lives in the mansion and who has fallen in love with her, she professes her innocence and declares her intentions to continue her holy war until the oily man has met her demands. ‘We didn’t start this,’ she says defiantly,’but we are going to finish it. Fair is fair. Fair is fair!’

Yes indeed, Billie Jean. Fair is fair. Fair is fair.

Fair is fair!

Even more bonus points: When Smith’s character, Putter (another stupid name), is taken into custody after boldly sacrificing herself for her best friend, her mother comes storming into the jailhouse and promptly slaps her wayward teen. The mother is played by Janet Smalley in her only film role. Ms. Smalley, as I knew her, played piano for my junior high school choir.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who would ever admit they were in choir?

Moving on.

The Legend of Billie Jean is not widely available on DVD or Blu-ray but can be purchased from Warner Brothers Archive for a more than reasonable price.

This!

Posted: April 19, 2012 in Movies, This!
Tags: , ,

Piranha 3DD

Why this?  Because if someone told me I could only see one flick for the rest of the year, it would be this one.

This sequel to Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D promises twice the thrills of its predecessor.  Considering that classic brought us underwater nude lesbian ballet and the regurgitated, severed-by-a-prehistoric-carnivorous-fish penis of that fat kid from Stand By Me, I’m frankly afraid of what this delight has to offer.  I’m expecting LOTS of boobs.  And blood.  And fish.  Can’t forget the fish.

Did I mention Gary Busey is in it?  Yeah, like I needed another reason.

There are very few movies that could inspire my disparate group of friends to rally together and see on opening night.  This is such a film.

Piranha 3DD opens nation wide on June 1, 2012 at a theater near you.

This week a horror film, The Cabin in the Woods, opened that has been sitting on a shelf in some MGM backroom since 2009.  Perhaps you’ve seen the spoiler-filled trailers.  When a movie is held for years from release, this is not usually a good sign.  These movies tend to…suck.  Thankfully, such is not the case here.  MGM went into bankruptcy and couldn’t afford to release it because of legal issues.  It’s the same reason there hasn’t been a new Bond flick for far too long.  Smaller studios considered buying it from The Lion.  Deals fell through.  When Lion’s Gate finally got the rights, the release date was pushed back.  All this foreplay created buzz amongst horror geeks.  A secret showing at Harry Knowles’ annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon late last year and a premier at Austin’s SXSW Film Festival only served to fan the flames.  Now that the movie has finally arrived, I can safely say it was worth the wait.

From the minds of former Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Angel collaborators Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, this is a smart horror flick.  Well written, well acted, funny.  Think of it as a deconstruction of the first two Evil Dead flicks and you’ll have a good idea where it’s going.  The third act throws the entire movie on its head and goes in a completely different direction you probably couldn’t have anticipated.

You should check it out.

All this love for the film got my noodle to reminiscing on some other fun genre send-ups I’ve seen in the last few years and it eventually landed on a fun, little Canadian gem from 2010 called Tucker & Dale vs Evil.

Good Guys

Tucker & Dale are just a couple of down-on-their-luck, well-meaning country boys who’ve scraped together enough cash to buy a dilapidated country shack that they wistfully plan to turn into their dream vacation getaway.  While on their way to their new abode to begin some repair work, they stop at a rural gas station for necessary supplies.  Unrelated, a group of college kids are at the same station stocking up for a weekend camping trip.  Allison, one of the campers, catches the eye of Dale and he is immediately taken with her.  Despite Tucker’s urgings, he’s too shy to approach her and can only admire from afar.  The college kids take note of our erstwhile heroes and perceive them as creepy, backwoods trash.  Silly profilers.  The two groups part ways and there’s no real reason why they should cross paths again.  But then we wouldn’t have a movie if that were the case.

As it happens, the cabin and camping site are relatively close to each other.  Late that same night while fishing, the good ole’ boys come across the same swimming hole where the horny, young adults have decided to skinny dip.  Tucker and Dale, unseen at this point, spy young, beautiful Allison standing atop a rock bathed in the moonlight.  Dale panics when he sees her start to disrobe, and in the act of trying to announce their presence startles her to the point of falling off the rock and striking her head.

Gratuitous half-naked shot of The Heroine

The boys come to her rescue of course and pull her limp body into the boat.  Allison’s cohorts see this from afar and take it as an attack.  They run away frightened for their own lives.  Tucker & Dale, confused by their response but fearful for the injured girl,  take her to their cabin to tend to her wounds and the asshole kids, having seen too many horror flicks and emboldened by alcohol, devise a plan to save their ‘kidnapped’ friend.

What follows is a classic gory comedy of misunderstandings as the school-of-hard-knocks boys tend to their home and their guest while the educated punks seek retribution on the hillbillies they’re convinced are out to murder them all.

Bad Guys

There’s a lot of a great visual cues in this movie that bring to mind the classics of the genre.  The plot is tight and the script is witty and fun.  The acting is the true winner here.  Katrina Bowden’s Allison is not the archetypal blonde bimbo often found in a slasher flick.  There’s some substance there.  Tyler Labine as Dale is charming and sweet.  He’s a genuinely nice guy with a big crush on a pretty girl.  He’s got no game but he’s winning her over.  Alan Tudyk of Firefly flame (there’s that Whedon connection again) plays Tucker to exasperated perfection.  He’s frustrated and confused by the proceedings.  He’s just wants to be left alone to enjoy his new cabin and  to spend some quality time with his friend.

But he’s not getting the weekend he’d hoped for.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is available today on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Instant Streaming.

Because some things demand your immediate attention

The Raid:  Redemption (d. Gareth Evans)

****

The poster just about says it all.  “The Best Action Movie in Decades!”  Sensationalistic and hyperbolic?  Yes. True?  Quite possibly.

Gareth Evans is a Welsh director making Indonesian movies.  There might seem to be a bit of a disconnect but that is not the case.  While in the country filming a documentary about the fighting style known as Silat, Evans discovered Iko Uwais.  Impressed by the man’s charisma and skill, Evans cast him in his first martial arts film, Merantau.  Merantau was well received on the festival circuit and a subsequent collaboration was planned.

That follow-up is the film I’m so eager for you to see.  The Raid is exactly what it claims to be.  It’s balls to the wall action and adrenaline from the get go with no apologies asked for and no quarter given.  There is a perfunctory introduction to our various players, both good and evil, that serves to create some pathos and to establish motivations but at about the 15 minute mark, none of that really matters anymore.  Bones are about to broken.  Blood is about to be shed.  And you’re going to see stuff you’ve never seen before.

There’s not as much pure martial arts to be found here as in the duo’s previous film but there are enough fists of fury to satisfy any fan of that genre.  If you’re looking for some kind of reference point, think of it as a mirror image of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 or maybe a reverse-Under Seige…except it’s in a building.

I don’t know what else to tell you.  If you like action flicks, you WILL like this movie.  Hell, you may even love it.

I did.

Emilia Clarke

You may not recognize her, as pictured above, without the signature shock blonde-white hair she sports in her breakthrough role as Danereys Targaryen on HBO’s Game of Thrones.  Also, she’s not naked.  Or covered with dragons.  Or both.  Regardless, the young lady is terribly cute.

Ms. Clarke, who previously had only appeared in a short run BBC TV series and on a SyFy film, has landed one hell of a plum role as the deposed, young princess obsessed with reclaiming what she feels is her legacy and her land.  I haven’t read the novels so I don’t know how long the character lasts.  I hope she ends up killing everyone and rules all the lands.  Just her and her dragons.  Naked.  Her.  Not the dragons.

If you see this woman, tell her I love her.

Mini-reviews to help you choose

Can you believe the year’s 1/4 over already?

What? You don’t go time for chit-chat? Alright, to it then.

I didn’t get around to seeing much in the theater last month and what I did see didn’t quite match the highlights that January & February provided but there’s some decent stuff in here and if you get a chance some stuff definitely worth checking out.

Again, per the industry standard, all films are rated on a 5-star scale.

Project X (d. Nima Nourizadeh)

**

Sorely lacking in Matthew Broderick or space monkeys, this teen-skewed raunchy comedy is another entry in the pervasive ‘found footage’ genre. Told through a storyline student ‘documentary’ and video captured on cell phones and television news cameras, a group of kids decide to throw the ultimate party in a most likely futile effort to gain popularity and get laid. It’s a tale as old as time. I’m pretty sure it was in the Bible. Let’s be honest. The 80’s were the heyday of the teen sex comedy (Fast Times, Porky’s, Hardbodies, etc.) The American Pie franchise did it’s feeble best to revive the genre in the 90’s/00’s with some success but no one’s done it as well as those horn-dogs that did it so well in the day’s of hair metal and boom boxes. Our young protagonists are likable enough and capable actors. There’s plenty of nubile flesh on display. Wacky hijinks ensue. It’s ultimately a pleasant if empty diversion. Save it for a renter.

Project X is still in theaters

John Carter (d. Andrew Stanton)

***

I wanted to like this more than I did. But I ended up liking it more than I thought I would. Andrew Stanton is known as a director of Pixar films (Wall-E, Finding Nemo) and star Taylor Kitsch is better known as ‘That Guy from Friday Night Lights” and “Was he that guy that played Gambit?” Here both shoulder a heavy load in trying to bring to life Edgar Rice Burrough’s almost century old Barsoom universe. And they do an alright job. The problem is that so many filmmakers have been inspired by the source material that a film based on it now feels almost dated and derivative. Nevertheless, there is a lot to like here. Kitsch handles the role of the hero well. There’s really only one scene where I could call in to doubt his acting chops. This was Stanton’s first non-animated feature and he has a great visual style and made excellent use of CG in realizing the various alien life forms that inhabit Carter’s adopted world. The movie was a box-office disappointment domestically so there seems to be little chance we’ll see future installments. And that’s a shame.

John Carter is still in theaters and will be arriving on Blu-ray & DVD later this year.

Casa de mi Padre (d. Matt Piedmont)

***

Will Ferrell stars in a movie paying homage to the telenovela. The very idea of it struck me as intriguing if somewhat suspect. I’m not sure I initially believed it was actually going to be a feature. But it was. And I liked it. And it was nothing like I thought it would be. One expects Mr. Ferrell to be crazy and over the top. This is a reasonable expectation given his body of work in movies such as Anchorman, Talledega Nights, Stepbrothers, Old School, Blades of…you get the idea. Anyway, leave that assumption at the door. The filmmakers play this straight. Ferrell has a surprisingly good handle on the Spanish language as Armando Alvarez, the less revered son of a wealthy land owner. His family runs afoul of a vicious gang of drug runners who are using the expansive ranch where he lives to ply their trade. Love is found, family dies, revenge is sought. It’s all very ridiculous but surprisingly engaging.

Casa de mi Padre is still in a few theaters.

21 Jump Street (d. Phil Lord/Chris Miller)

*** 1/2

This film was easily the biggest surprise of the year for me. When I first saw the trailers, I was not enthused. I was thinking it would be no better than the terrible Starsky & Hutch movie that Ben Stiller unleashed upon an unsuspecting universe a few years back. I could not have been more wrong. As the release date approached, word was quickly spreading that this was actually a very enjoyable flick. And more importantly, it was being billed as hilarious. So with renewed but cautious optimism, I went to see a movie I had previously vowed I would not. Glad I did. Channing Tatum is not a great actor but he’s pretty damn funny. Jonah Hill has shown his comedic prowess in previous films though his act was getting a bit tired. He plays it slightly different here to great effect. They make a fine comedic duo as two inept cops who get shunted off to a forgotten undercover division because their superior officer doesn’t know what else to do with them. The plot, something to do with a new designer drug, plays second fiddle to the relationship between the leads and their attempts to ingratiate themselves to a student body who can’t help but notice that they seem terribly out-of-place. Fans of the old TV series will be delighted by several cameos peppered throughout the proceedings. I won’t say you have to see this in theaters but if you’re looking for a healthy laugh on down the road check it out when it hits home viewing.

21 Jump Street is still in wide release at a theater near you

That’s all I’ve got. Go away. I’m done.