top ten, of sorts

Oh, I know it’s not January and time for top ten lists, but today marks one year since I joined so I thought I’d do a “year” end list for that, and take a look at the site and what constitutes the 10,200 song plays that I have enjoyed over the last year. For those who don’t know, is a website that tracks the songs in your “recently played” playlist in iTunes (including what you play on your iPod). But since I tend to go on and on, I’m going to post this with a Read More Here… Read more »

you pay it back, the collar stays on

Danny the DogAh, yes, Danny the Dog, a sweet and silly and violent crime drama… Jet Li is the titular Danny, a fellow trained from youth by a Glasgow gangster, Uncle Bart (Bob Hoskins), to be his enforcer. Danny is a introverted, non-emotional guy who just stands and stares, wearing a collar around his neck. Once the collar is removed (uncollered, I would think, but Unleashed is what the movie is called here in the states) things change… See, Danny has been trained to respond with violence when “his master” removes the collar and gives the command. Lots and lots of Jet Li hand-to-hand violence as Danny becomes an unstoppable and unquestioning killing machine. Hoskins is, as always, great as Bart. He is the best when it comes to playing harsh and violent, mid-level, gangsters from the UK whose success is rather tenuous. He can portray such great attitude, charm and cruelty that it’s quite convincing. Here he is content to just sit back and collect his money, casually having people beaten and killed if they oppose him. While Bart stands around in his white suits looking smug and his other toughies don’t seem to do much, Danny is given all the work to do… Getting these dead-beats to pay Bart what they owe him. It seems like a lot of dead-beats like to borrow money from Bart, so we are given many, many crazy fight scenes, where Danny is heavily outnumbered but takes out all of his opponents. After one particularly public scene, Bart is presented with a business proposition. He is approached by a fellow who runs a secret underground fighting pit where rich folks can wager big sums against pit fighters, fighting to the death. Bart begins to see a door of riches about to open before him, with Danny as the key.


Danny the Dog


But right as Bart is on the verge of the big money, they get separated and Danny retreats to a place where he had recently met Sam, a friendly (and blind) piano tuner (Morgan Freeman). Sam takes him in where he undergoes a quick course in life lessons courtesy of the piano tuner and his daughter, Victoria. Learning all sorts of things: cooking, grocery shopping, eating ice cream, his first kiss (yes, the movie gets like that).

But of course, it can’t be all sunshine. Glasgow’s not quite big enough to avoid the baddies and at one point, the underworld comes calling. Comes calling in big numbers. See, Uncle Bart wants his dog back and will stop at nothing to get him. After all, he sees his retirement on the line! And so begins the battle for Danny the Dog to stay a dog, or to become a man. With sweet old Sam and Victoria in the middle of it.


Danny the Dog


Ok, that was a bit corny, but in between the fighting and car accidents and blood, there is a melodramatic search for his past and his future, and a corny ending. And while the fights scenes are excessive and violent, they do feel a bit staged, especially the big scenes against the punk rocker mob. I felt like I was watching a dance routine a la MJ’s Bad.

not quite the second american revolution we’d been hoping for

The Confederate States of AmericaPlayed as a BBC (well, “BBS”) documentary, C.S.A. The Confederate States of America is an odd little film. And valuable, I would say, to an extent. The story of the successor to the USA, the CSA: how they won the war, their rather different kind of Reconstruction, and their history since then. It is mainly told through real old footage (frequently “re-captioned”), fake old footage, and interviews with historians and politicians.

Starting at about the beginning of the War of Northern Aggression, this mocumentary covers the South’s enlistment of England and France in the war and the resulting victory over the Yankees at Gettysburg, the pursuit of Abraham Lincoln (who attempted to flee to Canada in blackface with the help of Harriet Tubman), expanding slavery up north, the wars of expansion in South America, the depression and everything up to the present. One thing that I thought was interesting was viewing the historical figures in a different historical context. Lincoln has none of his “Great Emancipator” reputation and both Jeff Davis and Robert E Lee were portrayed as near-abolitionists, due to some unpopular stands that they took after the war.

It is an interesting blend of fiction and reality. Though a lot of the events in the film didn’t come to pass, some of them were attempted and some of the historical figures shown did, in fact, exist and said and did things referenced here. While everyone is quite familiar with the old institution of slavery, I don’t think that people think much about the sociological environment in which American Slavery took place, to look beyond slavery and see the rest of that world isn’t really shown beyond Gone With the Wind. The fact that the Civil War was about politics and economics more than human rights isn’t oft taught and they point it out early here with a telling, and quite clear, Lincoln quote… One I certainly didn’t hear in grade school.

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also so that”

While it sounds, and is, gimmicky, it also has value both in showing some of the thinking involved in the support of slavery, and also to point out really how real the struggle for equal rights has been, as in you start getting the feeling that people haven’t really changed since then and given the option, a lot of people wouldn’t have a hard time embracing the actualities of slavery (well, unless they were the enslaved ones) even in this day and age.

In addition, the film also attempts to show the possible effects that being ruled by such a regressive Christian philosophy would have on: women, other ethnicities and other religious beliefs. I do realize that is our current situation, but as they occasionally go out of power, it has stifled their efforts somewhat. The extension of some of the thoughts into modern times is interesting, if only to show how people aren’t as far removed as they might like to think from those old-fashioned world views.

The documentary is interspersed with television ad’s, all of which are completely pro-slavery and racist (though some are uncomfortably funny in how extreme they go). None of them are anything that I will reference in these pages. The most unsettling thing about the commercials is the trivia about their origins shown at the end of the movie, which would be hard to believe if I didn’t have distant memories of eating at Sambo’s Restaurant in the early 1970’s.

we have both kinds, country and western

The Blues BrothersI’m not much of a comedy fan, or a musical fan. But there are some films of either genre that do catch my attention. And some that blend them. One of my old favorites of both is The Blues Brothers. Though I’m not normally a fan of Chicago Blues (what I call ‘electric blues’) or R&B (at least music like “mustang sally”, which I hope to never hear again) I have long been such a fan of The Blues Brothers that I actually own three of their LP’s.

But back to the movie. In a lot of ways, this movie hasn’t really aged well past the 80’s… It’s corny, contrived and gimmicky… But it’s also just plain great! Dan Akroyd and John Belushi are marvelous in it, their characters are great and the guest musicians are a-list and the story is mighty fun. An action comedy interspersed with musical numbers, the highlights of which are Aretha Franklin (as the diner owner who doesn’t want her man to go back to being a musician) and James Brown (as the priest who shows Jake “The Light”), but this is also the movie where I was introduced to John Lee Hooker (another blues favorite) and Ray Charles is great too. Those musical scenes alone are worth the price of buying/renting/admission. And coupled with the great nun scenes, Cab Calloway, John Candy, The Brothers great fashion sense and the brilliant scenes at the western bar, it is really great. Especially since the band is made up of actual (and well-known) blues musicians, including Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn and Matt Murphy.


Jake and Elwood Blues


For those who don’t know, Joliet Jake Blues (Belushi) is paroled only to find out that his brother Elwood (Akroyd) has sold the Bluesmobile and is actually picking him up outside prison in a retired police car! When Elwood forces Jake to visit the head nun at the orphanage where they grew up, they find out that the orphanage needs $5000 or it will be shut down. Now on a “mission from god”, they set off to put their band back together and play a big show that will raise the needed money. While they have a hard time getting the band back together and promoting a big show with one days notice, it is made all the more difficult (and craizer) by the fact that through-out the movie they are being pursed by: a country band, the nazi’s, the police and Jake’s heavily-armed and violent jilted ex-fiance (Carrie Fisher). So yes, chase scenes are on the way, including what may be the most excessive chase scene in movieland.


The Penguin


Regardless, it is a classic and a must see. The movie is non-stop, a lot of fun and Akroyd and Belushi are at the top of their game, with characters that fit them perfectly.

In other semi-related news. Today I had my orientation to be a volunteer at the Hollywood Theater. For those who don’t know this place, it is a beautiful 80 year old baroque movie theater that is owned by the non-profit Film Action Oregon and they play a great variety of local, independent, and foreign films there in addition to hosting many community events and also, ahem, both the Zompire Film Festival and the “festival of all festivals”, the world famous H P Lovecraft Film Festival. I am quite excited about this! It will be a nice experience to expand my environment, to help out a great organization and to get out to see more movies.

And finally, as anyone who reads this blog with any regularity will notice, in between movies I occasionally go off on my “anti tangents”. As I am starting to find it distracting, I am going to try to keep the original movie focus of this blog and move my rants to a different blog. Well, not move them… Currently I plan on leaving what’s here, here. But from now on, when I want to complain about something (non-movie related) that I get a hair in my nose about, it’ll end up somewhere else.

they will wait until the end of time for you…

The LangoliersAnd I would have rather waited until the end of time for this! Falling victim to the OnDemand again, we settled in to spend three hours watching what was possibly one the worst of the worst… It was certainly (and shockingly) the worst Stephen King TV movie I have seen yet. Yes. Honestly… Though I had always thought that it had an intriguing title, there is nothing intriguing about the movie The Langoliers. Being bad in every sense of the word: terrible visuals (!some of the worst computer graphics I have ever seen!), bad acting, terrible scripts, ridiculous story… Oh, in total it was a travesty. Maybe there would have been some potential in the idea with a good production and a good director. Though this was directed by Tom Holland who did make the brilliant “Child’s Play”, the other highlights of his career are Fright Night and Thinner, which while they are quite terrible themselves, they certainly best this one easily. Even with those low marks, I would have expected a director and producer with no professional credits for this slab of dull, dead-hogwashing! The story of a plane flying from Los Angeles to Boston wherein a few people wake up and realize that everyone else is gone. Luckily, one of the waker’s-up is an airline pilot! For some reason that escapes me (well, Stephen King?) they decide to divert to Bangor, Maine to figure out what happened and where everyone went.

Dean Stockwell is the writer (of course) who manages to figure everything out, the always awful Bronson Pinchot (well, he was perfect for his role in True Romance) plays the “antagonist”, an insane wall street guy who is, with much hostility, trying to overcome his overbearing and demanding father. The best part of the cast is David Morse (who played my idol, Dr Peters, in Twelve Monkeys) as the airline pilot, he does just fine and acts as if this is a real role. The story is quite terrible though. Honestly, they realize quickly that they flew through a rift in time in which everyone who was awake disappeared but the people who were sleeping (them) survived… Who would have expected a rift in time to be so discriminating? Once they end up in Bangor, they hear weird and ominous sounds approaching and decide that they need to fly back to that rift over the mohave to get back to modern time!

Featuring other low points like a Stephen King cameo, a blind girl who can read minds, two couples who fall in love,  endless “crazy logic” and a vast expanse of terrible looking sets and effects… This movie has not one moment of chills or scares or even an interesting idea. Except for the one moment when I realized where it was all going and that this whole story must owe its existence to some beery comment that someone must have made around King about what happens to the world when time moves on. And, my friend, after a couple of hours of this tedium, the punchline comes upon us, and that is the worst part.


full of zest, but no appeal

Well, maybe it doesn’t seem too impressive, but it makes sense… In a fashion. Yes, thanks to a blog which I’ve forgotten, I stumbled on the “What reading level is required to read your blog?” test…


blog readability test


Sure, we’re no geniuses like Blix, but than I didn’t need no silly online magic to know that…

a mom and pop operation

Before the Devils Knows You're DeadCertainly one of the best films I’ve seen in a while, I watched Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. A big meaty drama. One of those “things start off bad, and then just get worse and worse” kind of movies. Little (well, nothing) positive happens in this film and everyone ends up worse off then they were at the beginning. It is really quite good, with nothing but drama. The only light scenes at all are parts of the, yes, love scenes between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei right at the beginning, but aside from that, it’s all gloom and doom: Betrayal, lies, greed, murder, adultry… It’s all here. There were some annoying editing effects during the many jumps around in timeline but otherwise, I had no complaints with this great film. And it was a Sidney Lumet film…I didn’t even know he was still working. While he made some great classics in the 1960’s and 1970’s (The Pawnbroker, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network), he made The Wiz and I haven’t had much awareness of his work since. But this shows that he certainly still has it.

Another robbery gone wrong story, this has Albert Finney as Charles Hanson, a jewelry store owner whose wife is unconscious in intensive care due to botched armed robbery at their store. But that’s not the only reason that family events won’t be the same after this. His two sons Hank and Andy (Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman) are both having money issues and looking for solutions.


Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman


While I didn’t really ever believe that they were brothers, they were both very good and quite convincing. Hank is an unconfident wreck, whose marriage and life have kind of fallen apart and he lives in a dumpy apartment and cannot afford to make his child support payments. But on the bright side, he is having an affair with his brother’s wife! That same brother Andy is living the good life, due to a good job and some nice embezzlement tricks he’s been pulling at work, some tricks that are starting to lose their magic. He also has a drug habit which, based on the apartment that his dealer lives in, must be costing him some good money.


Philip Seymour Hoffman


Their solution is to pull an easy heist. Which, of course, goes oh, so terribly wrong. But that’s not all! No, not only do they have to deal with the failure of their heist and the problems that it didn’t solve, it brings more problems because Andy had come up with what seemed to be a perfect target… A small, mom and pop jewelry store that they both know everything about. They know it all because they both worked there in the past, because it is, of course, their mom and pop’s jewelry store!

After both their mother and the fellow who was hired to actually go in and rob the place are killed, drama besets them from all sides, and they make all sorts of wrong moves, leaving a trail of bloodshed behind them.

you’re making miss cotton nervous


Foxy Brown


I figured that I may as well round up my Pam Grier week with another old classic, Foxy Brown. Not as good as Coffy (which is just the best) it is still a good tale of vengeance (of course), and it starts off with amazing title sequence (how often does the stars of the film dance for you before the movie starts?). Pam plays Foxy, a lady whose boyfriend has just undergone plastic surgery and gotten a new identity after being deep undercover for two years. Pam and her guy are looking to stay out of trouble and start over again, but sadly, her brother is the punk-ass drug dealer, Link (played by the great Antonio Fargas in his usual trademarked style). See, Link is in a bad situation and owes a lot of bread to the same folks who Foxy’s boyfriend was up against. When the baddies are chasing Link, he runs to his sister for help.


Foxy Brown


Once she helps him out, it becomes obvious that the only kind of help Link knows about is helping himself. When Foxy introduces him to her “new” boyfriend, Link puts two and two together and, burdened with his usual big mouth and “out for himself” attitude, he decides that this is something he can cash in on. Once Pam’s pal get offed, she is in for some serious troubles and out for some serious vengeance.


Foxy Brown


Of course, as in Coffy, she needs to go undercover as a hooker again, as the big villain here is a madame. She has to go up against the madame, her “medallion and pajama wearing” boyfriend and a couple of roughneck, hillbilly, drug-dealers whose shack she is imprisoned in. Luckily, with the moving line “You just take care of the justice, and I’ll handle the revenge myself”, she manages to enlist the help of the local neighborhood vigilante committee and their cool Isaac Hayes poster.


Foxy Brown



Foxy Brown


And at this point, the baddies (featuring Sid Haig, yet again) don’t stand much of a chance! Pam and pals are out to exact a hard vengeance against these pimps, drug-dealers and murderers, using knives, shotgun, handguns and even an airplane!


Time OutWe also watched Time Out (L’ Emploi du temps), a great french film based (I think) on the case of Jean-Claude Romand, who spent 18 years unemployed, pretending to everyone that he was a doctor for the World Health Organization. All the while supporting himself and his family with other people’s money that he was supposedly investing for them. The story in the film isn’t nearly as dramatic, but it is a dramatic and engrossing film. Using very little dialog in the first half, and no “action”, we basically follow “Vincent” around as he quietly lives and sleeps in his car, making phone calls to his wife pretending that he is at work or on business trips. As tends to happen with these things, he begins to make his lies more outlandish bringing attention upon himself that he would rather not have. Of course, his facade begins to fall apart as people start putting the pieces together and he begins to feel some guilt about stealing money from his acquaintances. The movie is quite fetching. It travels at a slow and quiet pace, and Vincent is frustrating as you cannot help but wonder where he thinks all of this will lead. But Cailtin gave the best review when she said that it was so involving that she didn’t even feel like she was watching a movie.

the pitter pattering beats of the blogswamp

The trouble with music blogs is that once I start looking at them, their blogrolls look too tempting, and once I tread that way, I get lost in a maze of twisty little passages, just like in 1980 when I would stare at my endless Adventure games on the big rolls of teletype paper, trying to figure out how to get free of that darned maze and avoid that darned dwarf w/ axe.

Even the blogs filled with music I don’t like I am still fond of. I love to see all this stuff about all this music, especially things I’ve never heard of! I especially like blogs like (the sadly inactive) Something I Learned Today where he posted mp3’s of rare punk 7″ records. But what is the most interesting is anything about vinyl. Not that I listen to vinyl much, as I have lately been looking for interesting and new (to me) Death Metal, in non-vinyl format (such as: Abominattion, Mithras, Necrophagist and Spawn of Possession)… But my heart will always belong to LP’s. We are currently in a bad state in that regards, not only is 75% of my vinyl in storage, but the motor on my Rega Planar 2 died a slow death a year or two ago. While we’ve been waiting to feel like we have the money to fix it, we’ve been stuck with the Thorens TD-165 (I think), that was an irresistible yard sale buy for me a good number of years ago. While it is a fine and fun device (and more user friendly than the bare-bones Planar), we don’t really have a home environment that is appropriate for a deck with any kind of suspension. So keeping still while in the vicinity of the Thorens, when it is playing, is a must… And a bit of an inconvenience, with a dog and a toddler running around.

Regardless, the point is that Caitlin let me know that it has seemingly died too, losing all desire to spin-round. Sigh. We are certainly still not in a spot where we feel like dropping three figures to get one of these (well, it would be the Rega, certainly) fixed… Means even more reliance on digital media, and no more converting LP’s to MP3’s for a while. Luckily, there is an endless stream of blogs where I can live the vinyl life vicariously.

though we never found Yig, we had a helluva good time…

Finally, an Alien vs Predator movie that is worth watching! I always thought that the original AvP graphic novel was boring and the AvP movie is easily on the the top 10 let-downs in filmic history list, it’s funny how the first AvP did twice the domestic box that this one did. Because Alien Vs Predator: Requiem is more like it. Sure, it’s not that great, as in it’s not as good as any of the first three Aliens or the first two Predator’s, but it is so much vastly better than AvP, I’ve got to give it props for that. A Predator ship carting around some Aliens gets, well, overtaken by the Aliens and crashes on earth, freeing a Preda-alien and a lot of little baby Aliens on an unsuspecting town. Obviously, the folks are mince-meat for the Aliens, but when the news gets back to Planet of the Predators, one of them makes his way to earth pronto to clean up the mess.


Alien Vs Predator: Requiem


It’s got lots of face hugging, and great Predator effects, but then I’ve been a sucker  for Predator’s groovy technology and styles ever since the first one graced the screen some 20-odd years ago. Here, again, they’ve got bad ships and bad tools and a bad planet, plus there’s a big death toll, and I don’t feel like I’m giving much away to say that the final battle, between the Predator and the Preda-alien is a doozy. Yeah, the non-scifi elements of the movie aren’t that great, but they’re interesting enough. Our hero is the local pizza delivery guy who’s in love with some girl who’s seeing some jerky guy and that’s is what most of the story this takes place around, so of course, they come face to face with interstellar danger!

Anyway, I’ve been waiting for years for Aliens to descend on earth and start going crazy! And this movie is at least a start, though, sadly, the movie is too dark for most of the really choice screen captures.

Anyway, I shouldn’t stay on too long, as my DSL is still off (escalated to the “engineers”, at least) and I’v only got 20 hours of dial-up a month…

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