Collected Dailies I

High Crimes (2002) – This is that movie where everything starts to go bad for the high-performance heroine because she has somehow neglected to notice that her lovable husband is a homicidal maniac.

The Losers (2010) – The chief bad guy (Jason Patric) walks along a beach on a tropical island with his principal henchman beside him. A beautiful woman walks with them, on the other side of the chief bad guy, holding a parasol over his head to keep the sun off him. The chief bad guy and the henchman argue and we sense that the chief bad guy, though ever cool, is getting steamed with the henchman. A gust of wind off the water causes the beautiful woman (in heels) to step backwards, exposing the chief bad guy to the sun for just a second, after which the woman recovers, steps forward again, and apologizes. Meanwhile the chief bad guy stares at his henchman and then asks the henchman for his sidearm, a big hunk of automatic weapon. The henchman shrugs and pulls the gun out of its shoulder holster and hands it over. The chief bad guy hefts it, points it to his left without looking, pulls the trigger, and blows away the woman. All we see is her hand holding the parasol suddenly jerk out of the frame as she is blasted back off her feet. With regard to the badness of the chief bad guy, this is an establishing shot.

Wolfhound (2007) – or “Volkodav iz roda Serykh Psov” to you. Some podcast expert whom I trust – maybe one of the dudes on /Filmcast – said that Wolfhound was good fun, so I gave it a look. Russian, dubbed. The movie rips off Conan the Barbarian at the beginning, though the filmmakers evidently had no James-Earl-Jones-caliber villian available to whack off the hero’s mom’s noggin when the moment to do so arrived… Now we jump ahead to see the orphaned  son as a grown man. What’s that on his shoulder? Your eyes do not deceive you. It is a bat (the mammal, not the Louisville Slugger). So as night falls, the bat can’t just hunker down on its master’s shoulder. It must choose between hanging upside down in the master’s armpit or jumping off the shoulder to hang from a dead branch nearby. That’s as far as I got.

Secret Honor (1984) -This Altman film reminds me what a pipsqueak George W. Bush was, what a pimple on the face of history, compared to Nixon. From the late 40s through the 70s, Nixon brought Shakespearean weight, for good and for evil, to the nation.

A Single Man (2010) – Spoilers. Is it ever ok to set up an individual’s problems at the beginning of a film, have him/her work on solving those problems with the result that they get better, get worse, stay the same, or change – whatever the film’s chosen arc, only to have all issues resolved in the end by the individual keeling over stone cold dead?

Why is this movie rated R? The only violence was the bloodied face of a car-crash victim. The only sex was… well, I don’t remember any. Mystifying.

Hung (2010) – What have I learned about sex, watching TV and movies? From Episodes 1-5, Season 1, of Hung, I am taught that size matters. This knowledge, if true, can be of no particular use to any male, since as far as I know, in all normal circumstances, you’ve got what you’ve got and it’s not going to change. So that if size matters, it doesn’t matter.

Moving on, the show teaches us that, the deed having been done, the participants continue their lives and perhaps their relationship according to interactive principles that have nothing to do with the deed itself. In this sense, sex is rendered minor, in not inconsequential. But then, contrariwise, sex can equal $$$ and the solution to life’s most difficult problems. In this sense, sex is rendered important, a life-saver.

Speaking of which, does anyone use the term “size queen” anymore? Seems like I haven’t heard it in years. Urban dictionary has an entry, of course, but no data on current use. Hmm, Wikipedia: “This article needs additional citations for verification.” How would that work?

I was thinking that maybe I’d take a quick informal poll at work to find out if size matters around here, but I’d better be careful. Many of the women that I would ask were born in countries other than the U.S. That might confuse the issue. What if in their country, the only size is “small”? I want to be politically correct here. Best to go check with HR first… Ok, I went to HR. Didn’t want to just come out and ask the lady there if she thought that size matters, so I played it smart. I told her that a female co-worker had asked me if I thought so and was it ok that she had asked me? The HR lady said why did my co-worker ever ask me that. I wasn’t expecting such a question right back at me so I told her that I had asked the co-worker whether if I was a lot larger than normal, would that make me more attractive to her – you know, just to get her thinking about the subject. The HR person got prissy when I told her that, even though I had come to her in the first place! It was my idea! She got me moved out to “L” wing, which I  thought had been closed. Nobody out here but me and Bud and Cletis. They were both allowed to stay with the company after winning their suits on the basis of mental disability. So, no in-house poll on whether the girls here think that size matters.

[to be continued]

Matrix 2 (2003) – I noticed Matrix 2 on the library shelf the other day (Matrix: The Something or Other) and felt a sudden craving for some. Same thing happened a while ago with Matrix 3 (Matrix: The Whatever). I knew, as I picked up the disk, that it wasn’t as good, not remotely as good, as Matrix 1 (Matrix: no subtitle necessary). But I wanted some anyway.

I began at the beginning with Matrix 2, but at some point I realized (probably knew this already) that what I really wanted was action in the city. Forget Zion and everybody in it. Boring! How could the Wachowski brothers not know that? How could they make 2 and 3 with all that Zion in there? Brother!

The plot is complicated, so it’s not like they were forced to go with the machines attacking the stupid humans. Keeps us in the damn city.

Anyway, I hit fast forward to the city scenes and got what I wanted, so I’ll move on. Just a wasted opportunity for the brothers, but sequels – they’re famously hard to get right.

The Book of Eli (2010) – Has there ever been a post-apocalyptic movie in which things are ok in the world and the whole deal is kinda upbeat? If so, this one isn’t it. I suppose the apocalypse is a bad thing, from which bad things come, but still, there must be one movie out there with an apocalypse of  apple blossums and lions gamboling with lambs…?

Suppose you’re the main bad guy and you confront a good guy using a whole lotta your guys with guns and this good guy just shoots everybody in sight, picking guys off rooftops at 100 yards with a .45? Wouldn’t you, the bad guy, say to yourself, ok, this guy is on a mission from God and I am not going to be able to take him down?

For me, silliest movie of the year.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) – The ghost (Rex Harrison) is a sea captain. Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney) is typing up his memoirs in return for living in his house. At the typewriter, she tells him that she isn’t comfortable with some of the words he is using (which we haven’t heard). Then just use a different word for the same thing, he tells her. She looks down at the page. In this case, she says, I wouldn’t use any word. Then just use mine, he says, it’s a manly book. She sighs and then pecks out four letters: one with the left hand in the middle of the keyboard, one with the right hand in the middle of the keyboard, another with the left hand, middle but lower, another with the right hand, middle of the keyboard. And sighs. Unusual, for 1947 and The Code.

Shutter Island (2010) – I wondered, as I watched Shutter Island, what inspired, if that’s the word I want, Scorsese to make this movie. I haven’t listened to a commentary or any interview with him in which he has addressed this question, so my surmise, which follows, is no more than a surmise. Scorses is an older guy and I’m thinking that, famous as he is for following film doings, and casting about for a next step, his thoughts turned to Tarantino and Tarantino’s similar love of film and Tarantino’s habit – see Ingloreous Basterds – of paying homage to favorite films and filmmakers, and the fun that Tarantino seems to have as he creates a Death Proof, and Scorses thought, I could do that, I could make a fun movie with trops and tricks and references and the odd homage, as good or probably better than anything Tarantino could do. That’s my explanation for a film like this from a master.

Valdez Is Coming (!971) – For years, when asked to name my five favorite westerns, I included Valdez Is Coming in the list. When I saw it in the theater, I loved it. When I rewatched it, I still loved it. Years passed. The other day I noticed it at the library and checked it out. Started to watch it. Thought uh oh, this is Valdez Is Coming? A rookie director worked on it and it shows (Lancaster produced and wanted to see what a Broadway director could do with a movie). I paused it halfway through and put it aside – but then came back to it and finished it and by golly, if it isn’t in my top five, it’s still high on the list. The final scene, and Lancaster, and the score, and the cast, and the Elmore Leonard dialog make the movie for me.

Lancaster had made Lawman (1971) the same year. It was OK, but Valdez, and then Ulzana’s Raid (1972), those were some westerns.

Starship Troopers (1997) – Back when Starship Troopers came out, neither Ebert nor the NYT was happy with it, and rightly so, for this flick, which has lived on in spite of the downturned-mouth reviews, is beautifully and particularly made for one special demographic: the adult male who read and enjoyed the Heinlein book at the age of 14 when it was published in 1959 and now, at the age of 52 (this was in ’97, if you follow me), wants to sit back and take in the book again, realized onscreen but juiced up with the additional sex and violence (but not common sense) requisite for the fellow in his maturity. Ebert watched and reviewed the movie as if expecting it to have grown up like he had. It didn’t. Besides, Ebert was 17 when Heinlein published. Probably already too late for Roger to read it in the way that he claims he did in his review – as a true kid, that is. Paul Verhoeven, on the other hand, was 21 when the book arrived, so this isn’t a walk down memory lane for him either. I, on the other hand, was 14 when the book hit the rotating wire racks in the drugstore, so I’m among the select few who can truly appreciate the movie for what it is. 

Freetime Machos (2009) – Finally went to my first film festival movie – at the Provincetown International Film Festival. Yay. Thursday night, a community room with folding chairs. Four of us and four other individuals scattered about the room. Then, eight or ten others drifted in. Lakers/Celtics game 7 probably depressed attendance (we tivo’d the game and watched it later. Unfortunately.)  Kevin Smith and Tilda Swinton were given awards Saturday night down at the theater venue but we missed that. The movie was a Finnish documentary. I didn’t know it was a documentary until somebody told me later, and even then I found it hard to believe. It was o.k. About guys playing rugby.

Cypher (2002) – Kermode and Mayo were chatting with Vincenzo Natali on their show the other day, about Splice and his career, and Kermode happened to mention that he liked Cypher. I started but never finished Cube and had never heard of Cypher, but I Netflix’d it and just watched it and it isn’t half bad.

Hard Eight (aka Sydney) (1996) – Check out Philip Baker Hall in Secret Honor, the 1984 Altman film, for a movie that befits his gravitas. I’d heard about Hard Eight for years without ever quite getting around to watching it. Expected a movie about an older man teaching a younger man the ropes in Las Vegas – that is, a movie about gambling. Hard Eight starts that way and got my hopes up, but quickly switched over to a young man’s concept screenplay that, while I enjoyed every minute of it, didn’t really work for me. Hall and a youthful John C. Reilly telling each other, tearfully, over the phone, betwixt Las Vegas and Missouri, that they love each other, the old hood and the kid who appears boarderline challenged, after a relationship between them that must have included significant interaction offscreen after the second and before the third acts – that rarest of all birds, the middle-of-the-movie unspoken backstory – is not a scene that you will see every day.

From Paris with Love (2010) Whatever the questionable merits of the movie, I enjoyed watching, and listening to, the shaven-headed, goateed, non-Travolta-sounding Travolta as he earned his paycheck. And while I’m thinking of it, Crank: High Voltage (2009) remains the hyperkinetic gold standard. And does Jonathan Rhys Meyers with a ‘stache have Johnny Depp’s mouth?

Bitch Slap (2009) – I was watching this Tarantino knockoff, which features three young women working to look hot while keeping it covered, 50s fashion, when it occurred to me that implants don’t work especially well in such a venue. There is something about  the grindhouse aesthetic that remains not just low-budget, but quintessentially natural, pre-silicone. Hard women, yes, but a little more pliant up front, back in the day.

Questions about Daybreakers (2009): The vampires smoke a lot. The top vamp likes cigars. Since they’re all asleep during the sunlight hours, and humans are rare and hunted, who grows the tobacco? Also, vampire Ethan Hawke doesn’t drink human blood cause it’s not ethical; yet the world of vampires is dying because of lack of blood. So why doesn’t everyone drink, or eat, what he does? And what does he eat and drink, anyway?

The New Daughter (2009) – I watch very few bad movies all the way through. That’s because if I watch a movie all the way through, it must have some redeeming qualities, at least for me. Here is an exception. I wasn’t permitted to turn it off, or leave.

Why  was Kevin Costner in this? Did one of his children make it? Did he lose a bet? Is he going senile.

One (of oh so many) inanities in “The New Daughter”: The plot is based on the notion that an ancient super race consisted of male workers and a queen. The males could not live without the queen and now they need a new one (Costner’s daughter). Ants and ant farms abound. Evidently no one told the writer that worker ants are all female.

Edge of Darkness (2010)

Items of interest:

  • Because a long and complicated miniseries is here shoe-horned into standard revenge format, (spoilers ahead), we have to settle for the violent deaths of the evil head of the corporation and three minions and one evil senator and two minions, as the proper wages of sin. The seven are proxy for some vast network of folks who must have known that they were perpetrating evil. But oh, I almost forgot: as is standard in this genre, the press at the end is fully appraised of the facts, so that we can rest assured that justice will be meted out in full.
  • Gibson is listed at 5′ 9 3/4″, although at his age he’s probably shorter. At least twice in the movie he allows himself to be filmed walking along with guys over six feet tall. Rarely do we get to see what a little dude he actually is.

The Devil’s Tomb (2009) – This film’s opening shot is of an automatic handgun in a hand. The hand grips the gun and slowly turns it toward the hand’s owner’s noggin – Cuba Gooding Jr. (as opposed to his father). Is Cuba turning the gun in the direction of his own head?!? I think, my God! he’s going to off himself because of his career – because of movies like this one!

Black Dynamite (2009)

“You’re one of those guys who thinks he can get by with a wink and a smile.”
He winks.
“What about the smile?”
“I am smiling.”

Surrogates (2009) – A leading contender for the It-makes-no-sense-but-what-the-hell Oscar. Will never catch Crank 2, though.

Message: It’s ok to get old without having any work done. Expect a flood of these as the boomers continue to age.

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Summer Drive In

When I was a kid, we lived in a Marine Corps housing development outside of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. On Friday nights, my father would take my sisters and me onto the base to the indoor movie theater there. The place seemed huge to me. We sat in the balcony. I saw Invaders from Mars (1953) there, and Retreat Hell (1952), and many another classic. Meanwhile, my best friend and his brother and mom and dad would pile into their family station wagon with popcorn and drinks, both boys in their pajamas,  and head for the base drive-in. I loved the indoor theater but I was curious about that drive-in. We never went to it.

Later in Phoenix, when I was in the eighth grade and then high school, I lived half a mile down Indian School Road from the Big Sky Drive-In. The Big Sky had several rows of benches in front of the snack bar and you could walk in for a dollar. Double features twice a week, changing on Sunday and Wednesday. In the summer, the evening temperatures were in the low 80s and you could sit out in comfort with a snack under the stars. I remember especially the Steve Reeves movies there, Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959), which represented exotic Italian perfection to me as a teenager, in spite of the dubbing and low-budget screen values. Reeves – Mr. Universe – what a guy, and steroid-free. For some reason, I also remember the Robert Mitchum/Shirley McClaine feature “Two for the Seesaw” (1962), which seemed practically arthouse and totally romantic.

So how come I never walked over there with a date, although there were plenty of girls in the neighborhood that I could have asked to go? Why didn’t I ever do that, especially to a movie like Two for the Seesaw? Miniature golf, indoor movies, the public pool, yes, I went on dates to all of those, but how come I only walked down to the Big Sky, sometimes stopping at the Dairy Queen on the way, alone or with my sisters? I need to think about that; maybe ask my therapist what he thinks.

I worked at another drive-in, a mile or so farther away in the opposite direction, over near 59th and Bethany Home. It was newer and had no drive-in uniform-hats that fit me. They were all too small. The manager, an adult who was probably younger than he seemed to me at the time, insisted that I wear one of those tiny hats and I’d squeeze it onto my head whenever I saw him coming – which was often, because he persisted in hitting on the female teens working at the drive-in. He’d glare at me and my hat, signaling that I should get lost while he was operating on Clara in the ticket booth. In return, I never checked the  car trunks, even when it seemed obvious that there were multiple kids hiding in them. The whole time I worked there, the same movie played, something about a big dog, an Irish Setter I think. It probably died at the end of the movie but I never actually watched frame one, so I couldn’t say. A station wagon would roll up to the ticket window with a dad and mom, packed with kids, and I’d have to tell them that Disney had jacked up the prices for the show, with me needing to charge for every kid in the carinstead of the usual flat rate, and the faces of the parents would fall. I let quite a few cars through without paying for the kids because Disney and its evil representative, the drive-in manager, pissed me off. Can’t remember why I quit but I do remember that I wasn’t fired.

There was one date that I took to the drive-in (can’t remember which theater but it wasn’t the Big Sky). Dr. No (1962) was playing – the first Bond movie. Who knew the future of the franchise, but I had been reading the Fleming books because JFK said that they were his favorites.  I liked the movie better than the date. I was there with Charlotte after she had changed her name to Amy. We were both home for the summer from college. Now that I think of it, I saw The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) on a date, too, and again, liked the movie more than the date. Maybe that’s why I went to The Big Sky alone. Dates and movies can both be good, but why mix them?

In later years, the Big Sky suffered the same fate as a lot of other drive-ins: softcore porn, then a weekend flea market, then torn down, memory erased by new construction. Not so different, mutatis mutandis, from the fate of many of its patrons.

What I’ve Learned from Movie Sex

What have I learned about sex, watching TV and movies? From Episodes 1-5, Season 1, of Hung (2009), I am taught that size matters. This knowledge, if true, can be of no particular use to any male, since as far as I know, in all normal circumstances, you’ve got what you’ve got and it’s not going to change. So if size matters, it doesn’t matter.

Moving on, the show teaches us that, the deed having been done, the participants continue their lives and perhaps their relationship according to interactive principles that have nothing to do with the deed itself. In this sense, sex is rendered minor, if not inconsequential. But then, contrariwise, sex can equal $$$ and the solution to life’s most difficult problems. In this sense, sex is rendered important, a life-saver.

Speaking of which, does anyone use the term “size queen” anymore? Seems like I haven’t heard it in years. Urban dictionary has an entry of course, but no data on current use. Hmm, Wikipedia: “This article needs additional citations for verification.” How would that work?

I was thinking that maybe I’d take a quick informal poll at my place of employment to find out if size matters around the office, but I’d better be careful. Many of the women that I would ask were born in countries other than the U.S. Might confuse the issue. What if in their country, the only size is “small”? What if small is beautiful? I want to be politically correct here. Best to go check with HR first… Ok, I went to HR. Didn’t want to just come out and ask the lady there if she thought that size matters, so I played it smart. I told her that a female co-worker had asked me if I thought size matters and was it ok with HR that she had asked me that? The HR lady said why did my co-worker ever ask me that in the first place? I wasn’t expecting such a question right back at me so I told her that I had asked the co-worker whether if I were a lot larger than normal, would that make me more attractive to her – you know, just to get her thinking about the subject in the first place. The HR person got prissy when I told her that, even though I had come to her in the first place. It was my idea to talk to HR, wasn’t it? Not hers. So then she got me moved out to “Q” wing, which I  thought had been closed years ago. Nobody out in Q but me and Bud and Cletis. Bud and Cletis were allowed to stay with the company after both won their suits on the basis of mental decrepitude. So, no in-house poll for me on whether the girls here think that size matters, not until they let me back into the main building, at least to use the cafeteria or the restroom (male).

Changing the subject, at the last company party I’m glad I didn’t throw my keys in the bowl.

And I must have learned more at the movies than a few simple facts about size. Let’s see… The Messenger (2009): [spoilers] Coming back from war and doing it with your ex-girlfriend, who is now engaged to somebody else, is not necessarily a good idea; hooking up with a newly bereaved war widow could work, but this film suggests that you should hold back on that, too. Youth in Revolt (2009): I’m too old for any of the learnings manifest here; nothing wrong with watching, though. The Eclipse (2010): Do it while she’s still alive.

As for how, exactly, to do “it,” I’m not getting too much from the movies: whether you’re on top or underneath, make sure that you’re panting for it in advance: this advice might work for the first night or the first week or the first month or the first year, but reenacting that typical movie scene of crazy passionate congress after, say, the ten-year mark of togetherness, would require the crazy sexual focus of a Maharishi Dontdoityourselfeveryjoor.

[to be continued]