Collected Dailies 3

Whiled away 6 hours at the metroplex. Inception (2010), Salt (2010), half of The Other Guys (2010), the start of The Expendables (2010), and my first look at 3D via part of the climax of Avatar (2009)  (didn’t like it – the 3D or Avatar). Empty theaters on a Friday afternoon playing hooky from work; time well spent.

The name Benjamin Button is odd, but the name that always bothered me a little was Brad Pitt. I would ask myself, why choose a name like Pitt for your screen name? This was before I realized that these days, lots of actors keep their own names, regardless, and that Thomas Bradley Pitt was one of them. It has never bothered me that the two Pitts were Prime Minister. Eartha Kitt is OK. Mitt is OK, though I don’t like his politics. I’ve got nothing against armpits, or fruit pits, or Pittsburgh. Just seemed like a strange name to choose. Now if he ever marries Angelina (whose real name is Angelina Jolie Voight), she can be Angelina Pitt.

There is a scene at the beginning of She’s Out of My League (2010) in which Alice Eve walks through the Pittsburgh airport, stopping all male traffic as she strides along in her red high heels, preceded by her cleavage and posterierceded by her flowing blond hair. We’re required to suspend our disbelief just a tiny bit because, although she is looking mighty fine in the scene, and is backed by a supportive musical soundtrack, maybe she’s not… quite… that fine. But we get the point. The thing is, I was reminded of my first job after college, wherein I sat at a desk in a very large room filled exclusively with men of all ages dressed in short-sleeve white shirts and dark ties. Every afternoon at two, the boss’ daughter pushed a mail cart through the room. We knew that she was coming because there was another room just like ours through the doorway to the south and we could hear the silence fall there at one fifty-five. This young innocent with her cart and Virgin-Mary blank stare and exaggerated secondary characteristics, dressed like a Burger-King hooker, was the prototype, the ur-babe, the apotheosis of show-stoppers. No one, including yours truly, could get enough of her. Then when she had passed on to the next room to the north and the cone of silence moved with her, we all  slumped back in our chairs in unison, shaking our heads, rolling up our fingers in our ties, spent.

Happy Endings (2005) – Someone recommended Short Bus to me as a movie in which many modes of sex are showcased with no ill effects, though other interpersonal behaviors do provide drama in the film. Don’t know if this is accurate, not having seen Short Bus, but it does describe Happy Endings, a movie with a sweet spirit, sex without feathers, and conflict out of bed, if not in.

Why was Charlie Chan more popular than Mr. Moto?

Yes, I too await the arrival of Sharktopus (2010). No more Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus (2090), which for me at least, had only one great moment, and that was in the Making Of short. Sharktopus: the head of a shark; the tail of eight tentacles, all presaged so brilliantly by SNL’s land shark.

The Drummer (2007) – “I’m a hoodlum. He’s a hoodlum in a suit.” I’ve got to ask one of my Taiwanese friends how prevalent the indigenous Taiwanese language still is, and who speaks it and who doesn’t, and how far Mandarin has spread on the island, and how many Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong residents, on fleeing to Taiwan, would be able to understand the language…  Aha, and the answer is, the indigenous Taiwanese language, Fukienese, was in disfavor for some years as Mandarin was imposed on the island, but now is acceptable again. Mandarin is more widespread on the island in the north, Fukienese in the south. And Fukienese is also the language of Fukien Province north of Hong Kong. Cantonese speakers can also often understand and speak Fukienese, as in the movie…  I hope Film Movement is doing well. Once when writing a review, I interviewed the head of the company. I’ve enjoyed so many of their films, it would be a shame if they went belly up…

Virtuality (2009) -The  opening titles kept appearing… one… by… one… for the longest time into a movie that I’ve ever seen… Presented as a Fox reality show. I don’t like reality shows. But it’s a nicely photographed science-fiction movie with a virtual-reality hook. Between my likes and dislikes, I’m watching the movie in bits and pieces, waiting for the payoff… Oops. No payoff. A pilot for a failed series. Didn’t do my homework on this one. No wonder I could never figure out what the f**k was going on. And even if the series eventually materializes, I’ll bet they never explain where the gravity on the ship is coming from.

Reno 911: Miami (2007) – My spouse liked it. Yay. Means I’ll probably get to watch all 5 seasons again.

I wish that in history class I had been shown a few movies like The Age of the Medici (1973). As much as I knew already, or thought I knew, on the subject, the movie added so much texture and color. A toast to Rossellini for doing the right thing late in life.

Moscow, Belgium (2008) reminds me again, as so many European movies do, that if I want something with a soul and a heart, I shouldn’t count on Hollywood to provide it.

Susannah York is filmed with serious gauze or vaseline on the lens in The Silent Partner (1978). We get a closeup of Elliot Gould and then one of York, and the difference in apparent focus is hard to ignore. I assumed while watching the movie that she must have been playing younger than she was, to match up with Gould, but no, she’s a year younger than he is. Better a little gauze than having work done, though. By the time The Silent Partner was shot, she was well into her eclipse as a star, but she’s kept working since then, and she’s still at it… The Silent Partner: lazy plotting (makes you think about the plot while watching, but in a “no… wait…” way)  but a fun movie anyway – strictly a star vehicle for Gould in his heyday.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009) – If you’re in the mood to watch Robin Wright, Winona Ryder, and Maria Bello, with a little Julianne Moore and Monica Bellucci thrown in, acting in each other’s faces and occasionally up against a game Alan Arkin and Keanu Reeves as the men – men! whaddaya gonna do with them? – mother and daughter struggles through two generations – then settle down and enjoy. It’s Wright’s movie and she was still – but only just – Mrs. Penn when she made it; be good to hear her compare the contemporaneous divorces – the one in the movie and her own.

Repo Men (2010) – Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Jude Law. This is not chopped acting chicken liver we’re talking here. How I wish I could have been in the room when the three of them were pitched this movie.

O’Horten (2007) – Quietly reminds us how lousy the U.S. mass transit system is.

Creature of Darkness (2009)

Why did I bring home this particular movie, of all the Blockbuster horror flicks on the shelf? I brought this movie home because a critic watched it and liked it and wrote about it. I assume now that the critic had a close personal connection with someone in Creature of Darkness (2009). Perhaps one of the actors owed him money.

Having said that, I  will not waste my time or yours ragging on this film. Some guy took the trouble to write a screenplay and direct it. Eleven actors got a payday out of it, as well as a new line in their resumes.  Somebody invested money in the movie. Why should I be a churl about it?

This is one of those indies wherein the director transports his script and actors up to Santa Clarita for a week-long shoot in the hills, including nights in the cold (actually 23 days and 23 nights; I underestimated the work that went into this flick), lines up an effects guy for some undergraduate work on a Mac when they get back, and boom, press the disk and ship it! It’s sort of like watching your frat and sorority friends making a movie. Story makes no sense whatever (even though the hero tells us “it’s just like Einstein said”). No hint, no morsel, no single moment, no nanosecond of humor onscreen. 2010 and this the 9,999th movie of its kind and Mark Stouffer wouldn’t or couldn’t crack a smile.

I was hoping for a commentary track, but no. Why did Stouffer make this movie? He’s done some good National Geographic work, won two Emmys and a bunch of other stuff, made some real movies, and…wha?… Mark, where’s your Wiki page? This can’t be right! Marty gets a page and you don’t? To read about you, I’ve gotta go to Linked In? Jesus, you work all your life, you sacrifice, you slave, you bleed, you rack up the honors, and then when you try to put up your page, or your wife tries to put up your page, or your kids try to put up your page, those idiots at Wikipedia keep taking it down, and you put it up again, and they take it down again, the bastards… Fine. Who needs it? I could care less. To hell with them. Don’t ever, I mean EVER, DON’T EVER EVER EVER PUT UP MY WIKI PAGE AGAIN GODDAMMIT!!

There being five young men and five young women in the film, I thought I’d try and guess in advance the order in which the monster kills them off. I got the first one right. A guy  asks his girlfriend to flash him – which she does with the camera modestly focused above her collarbones – hey, the movie’s already got an R, what’s the problem here? Stouffer is an old prude? Hoisting up the tank top was  integral to the plot! Don’t let her hoist in vain. So anyway, counting that behavior as sex, the guy is immediately doomed and dispatched forthwith. As I recall, the script did not even demand a scream from him. Some of these guys hate to scream! That’s what the girls are for. The angry Latino guy went next. I didn’t see that coming. Surprising, as his IMDB resume seems one of the most solid. Maybe he was being paid by the hour, or would only sign up for one day’s work. And by the way, this movie would have been improved by just losing the monster and concentrating on the existing interpersonal conflicts between the young men and women provided as victims. I guessed the third one to buy it, the gay guy. Not to stereotype but yes, he was made to scream. At this point, I began to wonder if only the guys were going to get killed. With no gratuitous bosom shots, perhaps Stouffer was going for some kind of Caged Heat on us. But no, the second-most spunky woman went down next. With a shriek more than a scream.

After that the director threw me a  curve. Turns out that the monster is not killing and eating, he’s collecting and, for example, the gay guy was “a perfect redhead with freckles.” (I hadn’t noticed.) So, speculate the survivors, two of them now are in especial danger because they are “perfect blacks,” or “perfect African Americans,” or “perfect Negroes,” I forget which. Definitely not “perfect N-words.” Santa Clarita is not Gropple, Alabama, after all.  Although “perfect” in this case seems to mean “almost able to pass.” Up to their realization that the monster wanted a matched pair of people of color, I hadn’t noticed the couple’s ethnicity at all. Couldn’t tell by looking. The woman’s hair was straighter than any process could produce.  Going forward, the director threw in some Ebonic dialog, just to keep the monster clear on his targets. The dude goes street, but maybe he’s just some white dude with a tan, black curly hair, and a jones for acting hip. You dig?  Though he does refer to himself at one point as an ebony meatloaf. And whatever my thoughts, the monster didn’t seem to have any doubts!

The monster takes over in the second half of the movie. Guy in black coat (to protect against UV, though it’s nighttime). Then guy in monster latex after the coat burns off. Then animatronic. (I was wrong about the effort and $$ spent on effects; more than I thought. A couple of guys labored over this thing.) Then animatronic monster parts that had been hacked off the main monster. Then digital animated monster. Then monster shadows on the cave wall. Bobblehead monster. I tried the shadows myself, using a hanky draped over my flatscreen. VP of Sales held the flashlight. Spooky.

Movie notes:

– Five guys in the group, and the biggest shlub, Devon Sawa, is supposed to be the Alpha dog (sorry, Devon).

– This is a group of 30s playing 20 with one female 40 playing 30 playing 20. You go, Girl!

– At least 3 Johnny Dramas here. Provides context for Entourage.

– Men’s gel still helps.

– Hey. No cell phone reception.

– “Courage doesn’t need explaining.”

– Hard to describe but there’s some stock music at one point in the movie that means a fire is going to start and then stuff is going to start blowing up. The track is instantly recognizable on a gut level: boinggg…boinggg… ding ding…ding… fwoosh!

– At the start of the movie, a guy shoots a ground squirrel with a rifle. What was that all about?

– Stouffer throws the gore fans a bone, literally – in this case, a complete, articulated spine.

– All that nature footage he shot in the past, seems like he could have gone natural here a little more, if you know what I mean.

– Stouffer. Any connection with the frozen dinners?

Final thoughts: Mark, you are no spring chicken. Use your time more wisely. Do not waste the remaining years before you go senile on something like this, even if you want to involve family in the project like you did here. Mark, you made this movie sixty years too late. Take all that money you spent on the monster (sorry, monster-fabrication guys, you seem nice in the Making Of feature) and next time give it to refugees, or for research into some horrible disease,  or even to the guy who asked me for change at the gas station this morning.