Tag: 2 stars

Somerville Theatre Terrorthon, Part I

caligari
Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, all on 35mm.

This year the Somerville Theatre has revived its horror marathon (some might recall I attended its last incarnation in 2009), and of course we took the day off to attend because of priorities. It was a lovely time, complete with cartoon shorts and lots of horror trailers, and I even won a raffle prize that included From Dusk Til Dawn on blu-ray! Wow! Also lots of fantastic posters were hanging all around, courtesy of long-time Thon-er Francisco Urbano. I loved that they programmed it in chronological order (and one offering per decade), too, since I haven’t been to a marathon that’s done that before and you could sort of see the progression of style and writing in genre films. They called it a “Terrorthon” but honestly there was not much terror to be had, and the majority of the films were straight sci-fi with maybe some horror elements. Not that I’m complaining, since I love sci-fi and there were some very cool selections, but “Terrorthon” is misleading! They plan to do it again next year and if they do I hope it’s actually scary movies. Then again I’m sure my horror lust will be sated at the Coolidge Corner Horrorthon this Saturday night. Anyway. Here are the movies, several of which I’ve already blogged about but that’s ok.

1 The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
I saw this years ago streamed on my laptop from netflix, which isn’t really the best way to experience it. Seeing it on a huge screen and with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis really heightened its effects, because this is such a goddamn beautiful film. I still think the protagonists are dull, and the pacing is totally off, but the artful visuals make it completely worth those drawbacks. I just can’t get over the contorted, painterly sets, fantastic use of color filters, and absolutely stunning make-up. I’ve also come to appreciate Conrad Veidt’s early use of leggings-as-pants, and his amazing face that I want to draw sometime. The title links to my original review.
4/5

2 The Invisible Man (1933)
I watched this for the first time three years ago, and remember not really loving it because I felt the horror elements didn’t work and didn’t like most of the characters. On second viewing I found myself really responding to the more comedic elements, because this movie is funny! All the scenes with the hysteric townspeople (especially birthday girl Una O’Connor) and bumbling police force are hilarious and I realized the film is more of a satire than anything else. Plus I still love the effects and Claude Rains’ performance. He sure does love yelling. And fancy smoking jackets. The title links to my original review, but I’m upping its score.
4/5

3 Dr Cyclops (1940)
This is one of the few films that was new to me, and I was excited for it when I saw it was on an icheckmovies horror list, but it was mostly a let down. The story concerns a mad scientist (Albert Dekker) experimenting with uranium in the Amazon Jungle, and some scientists he invites to help him out. He is very secretive about his work and after he gets what he needs from the group he kicks them out, but they are determined to learn what he’s developing. Turns out he’s shrinking living organisms, which feels really anti-climactic. Of course he soon shrinks the gang and they run around as rodent-size people for a while and Dr Cyclops (named for his glasses) chases them around the jungle. Eh. It’s mostly boring, definitely racist (hellooooo Latino stereotype!), and underwhelming in its premise. Dekker is good as the nefarious title character and I was happy to see a lady scientist who was mostly useful, and sometimes its silliness won me over, but that’s really minor praise. I felt like I might as well just be watching The Incredible Shrinking Man which is totally amazing and way way way better.
2/5

4 Forbidden Planet (1956)
I watched this movie the year before I started this blog, I can recall watching it in my depressing dorm room sophomore year on my tiny tv. I don’t remember it very well, something about Leslie Nielsen in outer space macking on Anne Francis and her dad’s a dick and Robby the Robot is there. Right? Yeah. Well my companions and I were getting hungry and didn’t want to miss any of the later films so we decided to take a break for dinner (at the meat-tastic M3, mmmm) during this one, sorry. We even braved walking into Honk! which just so you know was a very courageous thing to do. Oh, and there was a really fantastic Tex Avery short shown just before Forbidden Planet about televisions of the future, and it was literally laugh-out-loud and also fairly prescient.

Continued with Part II!

Anti-Gravity Double Feature: Jason X (2001) and The Pacifier (2005)

Seen: Both on our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’ harddrive.

Last Saturday my companions and I incorrectly assumed we could catch a 7:30 screening of Gravity at the Somerville Theatre. SILLY US. It was sold out at least a half hour in advance and so we walked back to our apartment. We decided to watch another space movie that Miles had recently acquired, a little something called Jason X. I haven’t actually seen any of the other Friday the 13th movies so this was an interesting experience. After that we wanted something more and after making a Jason xXx joke we realized that this could be the night we finally watch The Pacifier, a family comedy starring Vin Diesel that most people probably try to forget existed but had been on my to-watch list for a while. I must tell you though that after spotting the German dvd in a video store in Stuttgart, I can only think of it as Der Babynator. Maybe my favorite film title ever, to be honest.

Jason+X+14

So Jason was this guy who killed hundreds of people over the course of several movies, and when they finally caught him they found he himself couldn’t be killed (IRONY), so he was locked up for a while and eventually cryogenically frozen. Hundreds of years later he wakes up on a spaceship full of trigger-happy soldiers and hormonal college students, so, you know, one thing leads to another. I don’t think there’s much more exposition than that, really. I mean he kills a lot of people, and he’s in space, and eventually he gets super-powered because of technology. There’s a perky android in the mix, too.

Ok, I mean, OBVIOUSLY this movie is ridiculous, and like, what is even happening here. I don’t know, but it is pretty gosh darn entertaining. I mean, you’ve got goofy “futuristic” costumes (which basically means a lot of netting and bellyshirts), sexy times at inappropriate moments, gruesome senseless violence, horrific dialogue, and SPACE. There’s a surprisingly badass lady-action moment when Lisa Ryder’s “Kay-Em 14” is weaponized and just unleashes hell on Jason 1.0, so that was cool. And Jason X himself is kind of weird and awesome, all glowing metal and gross veins and shit, but he’s only there for the last 15 minutes or so, which felt like a cop-out. Overall it is not a very good movie, like at all, but I can’t say I wasn’t taken in by the grisly murders and hokey outer-space antics- it’s just dumb fun. Also: David Cronenberg is in this movie, presumably because he’s like best friends with director James Isaac.

As a movie: 2/5
As entertainment: 3/5

pacifier

Hopefully you all know how I feel about Vin Diesel. I feel pretty strongly. Because he’s so great, you guys! I knew The Pacifier would probably be dumb, family-friendly comedy and might feature a lot of Diesel embarrassing himself for the sake of the children, but I couldn’t stay away. The story revolves around Shane Wolfe (Diesel), a Navy SEAL who is forced to guard (and essentially babysit) a family after he loses their scientist father on a mission. Through discipline and a little bit of love he helps these kids get through a few weeks of school while also looking for some secret technology their dad presumably hid in their house. Also I guess they’re in mourning? I don’t know, they never talk about their dad dying but also maybe I wasn’t paying attention to most of the narrative exposition. I had a few drinks, ok?

Directed by Adam Shankman and written by The State members Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, this movie is a lot better than you’d think it is. It’s extremely silly, of course, and generally nonsensical, but whatever- that’s basically the point! And it made me laugh! It helps that the cast is pretty strong, including Brittany Snow, Lauren Graham, Brad Garrett, and Carol! Kane! (!), but naturally this is all Diesel’s show. He’s doofy and over the top as this military dude out of his element, and it works. The script is decent, filled with unexpected situational humor and a few good one-liners, and there’s even some good action thrown in. Also: a Sound of Music musical number! Eep! It’s stupid, yes, and it has too many children, YES, but The Pacifier is basically a funny movie. THERE I SAID IT.

3.5/5

Movie Review: Jukkalan (This Girl is Bad-Ass!!) (2011)

jakkalan7
Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

A teen bike messenger named Jukkalan (JeeJa Yanin) and her well-meaning uncle (Petchtai Wongkamlao) find themselves in a heap of trouble when Jukkalan is hired to transport goods and money for warring gangster factions. She steals their money but keeps working for them (or something?) and soon tons of grunts are attacking her every second. Meanwhile a nerdy neighbor is trying to date her, but she has her eyes set on a different, hunkier neighbor. Hormones and high kicks fly around everywhere in This Girl is Bad-Ass!!.

So. Bike messengers. Martial arts. JeeJa Yanin. A title about a girl being a badass. THIS MOVIE SHOULD HAVE BEEN EXCELLENT. But mostly it was just totally stupid, nonsensical, and boring. The script has no direction, I had no idea what was happening half the time, and when I did it was probably because some dumb, juvenile subplot was happening that I definitely didn’t care about. The comedy is extremely broad and hokey, and every scene seems to extend a minute longer than it needs to so the jokes are beaten into the ground. Speaking of beating, even the action sequences aren’t satisfying! They try to do this martial-arts-with-a-bike fight style and it definitely sounds better in theory than in practice. A few of the later fight scenes are pretty cool, with JeeJa Yanin using various found objects to beat the shit out of some gangster henchmen, and I do just really like watching her work. She’s not a very good actress here, though, and her character is vapid and annoying. Most of the characters are cartoon caricatures, which makes sense since this is supposed to be a comedy, but maybe I just don’t quite follow a Thai sense of humor. The only person who actually made me laugh was the bike messenger boss, who dressed in ridiculous outfits, had foot-long eyebrows, and rode around on a bumpy horse toy.

It’s not like it’s worst movie in the world or anything, it just doesn’t live up to its premise’s potential. And there’s a bit of homophobia towards the end. I did dig several action scenes, and was pleased to see a badass lady fighter at the center of a story that didn’t sexualize or victimize her at all. But you could just watch the scattered battle scenes and you’d probably be ok, it’s not like the context made much sense to me while I was actually watching the movie anyway. Here’s one on youtube.

2/5

Pair This Movie With: I don’t know. More like a “Watch Instead” I think. I would revisit Chocolate, which also stars JeeJa Yanin and has some excellent fight sequences but the subject matter is kind of off. Or Premium Rush for more bike messengers?

The 2013 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part I

Johnny-uses-the-resurrection-suit
Is it that time of year again? WHY YES IT IS! Every year the Somerville Theatre hosts the 24-Hour Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, which in recent years has also expanded into a festival for new sci-fi films, and the marathon itself now includes a few of the festival picks. So it’s basically a lot of nerds young and old gathered together in a gorgeous and spacious theater, armed with pillows, blankets, laser blasters, and caffeine, yelling geeky jokes at the screen. This year (my fifth in a row!) I’m proud to report that I stayed up actually the entire time- usually I nod off during one or more movies, but I was honestly 100% awake for the whole event, which means I won. The line-up was pretty damn solid this year, which I think helped, though there were one or two uncertain choices in the mix (more on that later). And we had this weird problem where people kept coming in at random times and sitting right in front of us? Like where did they come from? You should stake your claim on a few seats and set up camp, guys! There’s plenty of room! Anyway, the way these posts work is I will break down the 24 hours into three segments, and my memory might get a little loopier as it goes on due to the sleep deprivation. So here we go, erm, BLAST OFF!

1 John Carter (2012)
I missed this when it was in theaters so I was excited to see it here, and it made for a fun opener to the Thon. The somewhat convoluted story focuses on the titular gold-digging Civil War soldier who is accidentally transported to Mars, where he discovers warring aliens and an uncanny ability to leap tall buildings due to the lesser gravity. Overall it’s kind of silly but I found it generally entertaining- great effects and action sequences, imagination, a kickass warrior scientist lady, and a lot of shirtless Taylor Kitsch. Like, A LOT. I think the biggest problem is that it’s way too long. I felt like Andrew Stanton just got really wrapped up in this fantasy world and wanted to hang around in it for a while and really situate his audience within it, which I can understand. It is very beautiful.
4/5

I also want a quick shout-out for the well-done “In Memorium” segment that was shown after this, for those connected to sci-fi media who’d passed away last year.

2 Reptilicus (1961)
This was the “so-bad-it’s-good” pick for the night, which allows everyone to get out their wannabe MST3K snark. A Danish production but scripted in English, the film is a goofy monster movie with old European charm and an actually kind of cool dragon-like creature design. The effects are outdated and the acting is laughable, plus there’s a musical number for no reason, but it fits decently inside the mold of so many of those mid-century monster flicks. And it’s got a guy who kinda looks like David Bowie, and he was definitely trying to date the main military dude, so I may have had a little fanfiction going on in my head the whole time, no big deal. It’s enjoyable for how ridiculous it is and I was definitely entertained, but I wouldn’t put it high on a list of my favorite b-movies or anything.
As a movie: 2/5
As entertainment: 3.5/5

3 The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)
This one has really stuck with me, and I think I’m liking it more upon reflection even if I was torn as I watched it. I mean the premise alone suits almost all of my tastes- a black and white rock musical about alien punks who are exiled to earth and the main guy has an electric suit that he uses to save an aging rock star and they’re all dressed like they’re in Grease. The tagline is “They Sing! They Dance! They’re Juvenile Delinquents from Outer Space!”, I mean this movie was clearly made for me. Also the lead guy (Will Keenan) is fucking adorable, even if he’s a dick to his girlfriend at the beginning and I was a little uncomfortable. Mostly I dug the wacky visuals, the 50s atmosphere and characterization, and the splashy musical numbers though the songs weren’t the most memorable. (Still good tunes, though! I just kinda wish the amazing Paul Williams had expanded his cameo appearance and maybe contributed to the score? We could’ve had a Phantom of the Paradise-vibe!) The story’s all over the place but I guess that doesn’t actually matter, since for the most part it was funny and weird enough to keep me watching. It’s like if somebody mashed up Cry-Baby and Matinee and Alien Trespass and maybe Richard Elfman directed it? Kinda? Check out this video about it, that might give you a better idea. Also definitely wins best title of anything at the Thon, easily.
4/5

4 War of the Worlds: Goliath (2012)
Ok ok here’s where we cheated a little. After about 15 minutes of this animated steampunky alien invasion movie, we decided to head across the street for some dinner, since it just wasn’t especially appealing. I’m sorry guys, I felt bad leaving a new animated sci-fi movie since usually I’m all into that, it just looked sort of derivative and I didn’t love the visual style. We caught the very end though and uh it looks like the good guys won! Yay humans! And Nikola Tesla was there to help out, thank goodness. I’ve never seen/read War of the Worlds so I’m not sure how it all connected, I believe it’s meant to be a speculative sequel. Luckily we returned in time to catch “Asternauts“, a charming short about farmers who manage to contact alien life, from Marta Alicia Masferrer, who directed the excellent “Conlang”, a short from a previous Thon.

Alright so now that we’re back from Chinese food and really settled in, it’ll be time for Part II! Check back next time for more sci-fi fun, eager young space cadets!

Movie Review: Goodfellas (1990)

goodfellas

Seen: On dvd on my laptop, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

Ok let’s get this out of the way: I don’t like this movie. I know it’s held in high esteem by so many people, and I know Martin Scorsese is Important and everyone loves gangster movies with Italian-Americans, but this is not for me. I watched it because I was commissioned to design a poster for it, which I enjoyed making, but since I watched it in full I also have to review it. So here we are. Just wanted to start with that so you won’t be aghast at my negative reaction to a movie that honestly isn’t very good. Here we go. Inspired by true events, Goodfellas traces the rise and fall of gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he becomes part of a major New York criminal enterprise. He’d always dreamed of being a gangster, and believes the respect and wealth that he gains are worth the murders and threat of imprisonment and all that. As the years pass he starts a family, does some time, gets deep into drug trafficking, and eventually becomes an informant when several of his friends are killed.

The thing about Goodfellas is, I don’t care about it, like at all. I don’t care about any of the characters, I don’t care about the story, I don’t care about the visuals or the music or the production. So little about it interests me. I know it’s not a poorly made film, and I know the cast is generally strong, and that to a lot of viewers this type of story is important, but honestly I can’t believe so many people can sit through 146 minutes of this, and like it so much. Despite narrating almost every single scene (except for a few segments when his wife abruptly narrates), the protagonist is strangely flat. I felt like I knew very little about his personality even though this was his biography, and wondered if the narration was meant to haphazardly give him some dimension. I didn’t understand his motivations or his feelings. The bulk of the charisma is handled by Joe Pesci, who is unexpectedly terrifying as loose cannon Tommy DeVito, and Robert De Niro, who is sinister as the deceptively friendly James Conway, but their roles are limited. Suffice to say I hated all of the female characters, but I won’t pretend that that’s a surprise. One of the few times this movie caught my interest was when Henry’s wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco) threatened to kill the adulterous Henry, which I was ALL FOR, but then she wimps out and goes on some monologue about how she couldn’t leave him because she was still attracted to him. Whatever.

Admittedly I am definitely not the audience for this type of movie, which is why I wouldn’t completely write it off. I don’t even know that I hated it, I just couldn’t care less about it, really. It’s not offensive or anything, and there are some things about it I liked, like the aforementioned performances of Pesci and De Niro, plus all the discussion of Italian food (I was even making a good pesto while I watched it, so I felt very connected to my Italian roots). But there’s really so little here that interests me, and yet somehow SO MUCH movie, it just went on and on and I was constantly checking how much time was left. The narrative is poorly paced, and I felt like there was no drive, no direction, no oomph. And the face that I didn’t care about any of the characters, and indeed found most of them reprehensible, didn’t help matters. I honestly don’t know if we were supposed to be rooting for anyone, because I sure as hell wasn’t. They’re all just bullies who think they deserve an inordinate amount of wealth just because they, what? Threaten people? Wear nice suits? Speak Italian? I have no idea what gave them all such big heads. And if we’re not supposed to root for them, that’s ok, but then at least make them more compelling characters.

In the end it all boils down to boredom. Goodfellas is boring.

2/5

Pair This Movie With: I don’t know, other boring manly gangster movies I guess. It’s not my field.