the future’s so bright…

Children of MenAfter hearing much about it and then forgetting about it, Caitlin pointed out to me that Children of Men was ondemand. As we plan on canceling the cable this week, it seemed as good a time as any to finally see this movie. I had heard quite varying things about it, ranging from “a dull endless chase scene” on the low end to to the high end of Kurt’s proclamation of it as one of the ten best films of the year and a Video Sewer all-time top ten! It ended up being nothing like I expected, but certainly not a dull, endless chase scene… I am much more in the sewer camp of this being a fantastic movie. It was just plain great, a movie that I feel like I need to own just to be able to watch it over and over. It’s bleak, very accurate feeling, brilliantly violent (the blood on the lens scene is utterly great in its application and subtly), radically political and so verite you feel like you are right there.

Taking place 20 years in the future where women have been infertile for 20 years and most of civilization has collapsed under the stress of literally no future for mankind, things aren’t really looking up. This future world of Britain is wonderfully presented as a bleak and tired mess of a place, mired in a terrible class divide and a relentless attempt to purge the land of the foreigners.

In 2027 and the reality of no more children seems to have caused the violent collapse of the world… except for the UK, which has fallen into a fascistic police state (yes, more so than now) where the main goal of the government seems to be to brutally evict all non-citizens from the country. Clive Owen is just great in the lead role (and I have no recollection of ever seeing him in anything prior, except for the utterly, horribly, dull and forgettable Shoot ’em Up, so this was a big relief) as a man who is somewhat against his will drawn into an mission for a radical underground faction to escort a woman to the coast . As it turns out, she is pregnant and the goal is to get her to an offshore scientific community that is working to reverse the infertility. Of course, it also turns out that the group that they are with have decided that they want to keep the baby for their own purposes… Hence the chase. Clive and co are in-between all sides as they try to reach this mysterious group who they don’t even know actually exists. Aided by one of my old favorites, Michael Caine in a small and fun role as an old radical who has “retired” to the countryside, they need to continually rethink their plans to make a rendezvous with “The Human Project”. There is violence and betrayal on all sides, and the brilliant cinematography and realism of the film make you feel like you’re right there feeling the dirt and the mistrust.

Children of Men has great direction (and screenplay) by Alfonso Cuarón (who brought us one of the Harry Potter movies and Y tu mamá) and is taken from, of all things, a P D James novel of the same name. This really is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.



who goes there? oh…

The ThingAnother one of those films that I always feel like I’ve recently watched, seemingly not though. I finally sat down to watch The Thing, a wondrous classic, and the film that really makes me wonder how on Earth John Carpenter could have made all of those crappy films!

The Thing is very similar in my mind to that even greater classic, Alien, and when watching it I had to keep in mind what I realized when I watched The Thing From Another World last summer… Alien is more another take on the same Campbell story as these Things, then the other way around. Regardless, like Alien, The Thing is both one of the best horror movies of all time, and also a great science fiction film! With an alien, and a big body count and a rather hopeless ending… All because they didn’t let that poor Norwegian fellow kill that “dog”. It all could have been avoided if only everyone spoke the same language (highlighting one of the tragic aspects of the failure of Esperanto). Here we join a dozen fellows locked away in an Antarctic base who get some rather unexpected and confusing visitors, in the form of two Norwegians in a helicopter chasing a dog across the landscape and shooting at it. Something that is a bit unusual around those parts. One good thing about this film is that, for the most part, these victims aren’t oblivious at all. They immediately begin looking into the evidence they are presented with. When the “crazy” Norwegians come through camp and shoot things up, they realize that they need to go and check out their base. Then once there, they take the strange things that they find quite seriously: a melted humanoid blob, an old spaceship in the ice and bodies everywhere, it doesn’t take them long to realize that something not so nice may be about to happen to them and they start preparing for it.

 

The Thing

 

The Thing

 

Really, the only weak point in their behavior is that once they realize what they are up against, it would be wise for them to stay together as a group, yet they continually put people off by themselves or in groups of two, which in this case isn’t much safer. Regardless, the movie is hands-down great, firstly it has a great ensemble cast, though it features Kurt Russell in yet another role that seems written for him…

 

The Thing

 

But it also stars Donald Moffet, and f’n Wilford Brimley! The sets are great, really delivering a good atmosphere and the creature effects are brilliantly disturbing… More of those greatly crafted ones that really make me long for the days before CGI when people physically made films. And speaking of atmosphere, there is a great score by Morricone and the psychological feelings are quite apparent in this claustrophobic place… The tension, distrust and paranoia are palpable.

 

The Thing



i can’t feel my legs, Keyser…

The Usual SuspectsAh yes, another great classic. Though like most mystery/crime thriller type films, it’s never quite as exciting after the first viewing (and maybe the second time too) the good ones still have that special something. Like The Usual Suspects. First time through I thought that it was just about the greatest film I’d ever seen and Kevin Spacey was brilliant. All these viewings later, I still like Kevin Spacey, (though 1999’s American Beauty is the most recent film of his that I’ve seen, or wanted to see, as it capped a string of a half dozen great roles starting with 1992’s brilliant Glengarry Glen Ross, but those roles will always leave him at the top of my canon of great modern actors). And the film? It has little mystery left this fourth or fifth time through, but it’s still a great and timeless film and always a winner.

A strangely humorous crime mystery filled with great cynicism, brilliant betrayals and great, albeit terrible, characters: Spacey as Verbal Kint is our narrator and unheroic central character, Benecio del Toro in his greatest role, the nearly unintelligible Fenster, Stephen Baldwin in a role as dislikable as is deserved for the baddest Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne as Dean Keaton, the infamous master criminal who is trying to go straight, and Kevin Pollack as the devil-may-care explosives guy. The are all great in these roles, playing a group of felons who are conveniently (too conveniently) pulled together for a line-up. Of course, one thing leads to another and they go into business together in some crimes that lead to an elaborate plot involving: drugs, murder, Hungarians, Colombians, the FBI, an assault on a heavily guarded boat, lots of burned corpses, ninety-one million dollars, seemingly endless mystery and a mythical criminal boogie man named Keyser Söze.

 

The Usual Suspects

 

Getting off to a big start, there is a murder, a big boat explosion, burned bodies and two survivors: the palsied conman Kint and a heavily burned Hungarian in the hospital. As Kint is in police custody, the Customs agent who is out to get Dean Keaton (and who thinks he knows just what is what and who is who) drags the whole story out of him. All while the burned Hungarian man is telling a story of his own to an FBI agent who thinks there is more to this then meets the eye. The story is presented to us, back and forth, through a well structured sequence of current day and multiple levels of flashbacks that always keeps you guessing as to what the hell is really going on.

 

The Usual Suspects

 

The Usual Suspects is a stylish, well-paced and enthralling film. Ever mysterious, well written, well acted, a great plot and one of the best twists in filmdom.

 

The Beales of Grey GardensToday, though I didn’t watch it completely, we watched the The Beales of Grey Gardens. Well, it is very very much like Grey Gardens. If you watched that and said, “I need more!” Then watch this. Personally, I’ve seen Grey Gardens too many times to want too much more of it, and those ladies strike a little to close to home for me to be completely comfortable watching them. But, on the high side, I thought that this was a more entertaining movie than Grey Gardens. There are actually scenes away from the house! Honestly, though I’m a bit worn on the Beales, I consider Grey Gardens to be a must have/watch documentary. The idiosyncratic ways of this mother-daughter team of Jackie O cousins, stuck together in their rotting and infested Hampton Estate is genuinely terrifying and genuinely sad at the same time. Not so much for Big Edie, who carries herself about with an aristocratic bag-lady pride and couldn’t care less about doing things anyway aside from her own. She seems quite at ease in their odd little life. But Little Edie is so pitiful in her desperation to be part of something that is is a bit heart wrenching. The original movie is a mandatory introduction to them and this film feels more like something to watch if you have seen the first one and are already familiar with the Beales. They are the original crazy cat ladies and everyone should see Grey Gardens and, if they like it, they they should certainly see this second film. Not a sequel, of course, but just more “previously unseen” footage the same batch as the original.



time waits for no one

Perry MasonEspecially me. I am still around, but with the wife working full-time now and on an alternate schedule to mine, spare time seems sparse and the movies just aren’t getting watched too much. One thing that is getting watched is Perry Mason. Now I imagine I haven’t said this here before, assuming that it goes without saying, but Perry Mason is more that just a great Ozzy song, it is unquestionably the best TV show ever made! Due to KPTV, what used to be our local independent TV channel, Perry Mason has been on TV every weekday at noon for my entire life. Or at least 30+ years. That being the case, entire summers would go by when Perry at noon and Star Trek at 5pm (thanks again, KPTV) were the points to my day. I watched god knows how many hundreds of episodes over the years. Though every show follows the same story (murder/Tragg gets it wrong/Burger gets it wrong/Perry knows they’re wrong, but just doesn’t quite know what’s right/at the last minute Perry gets someone [usually someone who wasn’t even a suspect] to confess from the stand) the show never gets tiring! But back to the present. A good while back we got ourselves all 10 DVD’s of the First Season of Perry Mason and, wow, what else can I say, it was the best and now it’s even better!

Certainly the best DVD buy I’ve made (well, except for maybe the UK Russ Meyer boxed set and the Blind Dead coffin set), I am continually being re-amazed. These are the full original episodes and as such they are 10 or so minutes longer than the ones I’m used to. And those minutes are put to great use. I don’t recall ever seeing so much of Paul Drake (and his office and his sports car and the way he works), Perry comes across as much tougher and sneaky (law-breaking even) than I remember… They’re just great. They look good, the Gardner stories are still a lot of fun and the added time adds a lot of character and depth to these already great shows.

Perry Mason

Oh yeah, we’re about half-way through and the best episode so far has been episode 11, “The Case of the Crooked Candle”. When two women are waiting at the beauty parlor and it’s time for the next appointment… For Mrs. Bradford. Strangely, they are both named Mrs Bradford. They then learn that their Mr Bradford’s both have the same first name… And in fact, both of these women have the same address! Then Mr. Bradford turns up murdered… Obviously, something funny is going on in the state of California!



the 20 cent kung fu manual

Kung Fu HustleAdmittedly, I’ve never been much of a fan of martial arts films. I’ve seen some Shaw Brothers films from the 1970’s that I found quite appealing, but not much else. And I really didn’t like those recent big extravaganzas like crouching tiger. But alas, Stephen Chow has bridged those two genres and made an instant classic. Easily one of the great films of all time, Kung Fu Hustle is a rambunctious mixed bag of dance, gangsterness, kung fu, comedy, action and superheroes. A nutty concept and story that could easily have been done wrong in so many ways but ended up being basically a flawless blend of the above.

When some insulted gangsters decide to beat a slum into submission, they don’t realize not only that a handful of Kung Fu masters have retired there, but that those dangerous masters are not their worst threat! While this old Shanghai seems to be overrun with warring gangs, the only problems in this slum are the badly maintained facilities and the pushy and mean old cheapskate landlord lady and her philandering silk pajama wearing husband. That is until Donut and Sing, two losers who claim to be members of the notorious Axe Gang show up and try to blackmail the barber! The two aren’t really part of the Axe Gang, but they dream of being gangsters and seem to think that if they act accordingly, they will realize their dreams.

 

Kung Fu Hustle

 

The denizens of the place turn against the two and so they make an Axe Gang call for help. And help actually does arrive, lots and lots of help. The Axe Gang is a large powerful uber-stylish gang filled with men in black suit and tie, black top hats and wielding hatchets. Led by the thoroughly bad and ruthless Brother Sum, they care little for anything except for flaunting their coolness and power.

 

Kung Fu Hustle

 

Right off the bat in this confrontation, one of the Axe gang leaders gets his back broken mysteriously and they take their threats of retaliation against the slum one step too far. After cowering for a while, one of the tradesmen steps up and everything changes! It turns out that some of the tradesmen are super-duper, fly through the air, kung fu masters. The film becomes an endless stream of crazy, over the top, cgi’d kung fu sequences, involving lots of silly humor and an amazing amount of resilience on the parts of the characters… And fun and stylish antics of the ever glorious members of the Axe Gang.

 

Kung Fu Hustle

 

Surprisingly, even with the great numbers of gang members, the masters in the slum turn out to be too much for the Axe… Twelve Kicks from the Tam School, Iron Fist from the Hung School and The Hexagon Staff have outlandish and amazing warriors skills that leave the gang bruised and looking for some help itself. They call in the number two killers, a couple of top rank musicians who play a wicked mean Guqin and once again seem to be unstoppable! How many times can the masters meet greater masters.

 

Kung Fu Hustle

 

Seemingly quite a lot, because that is all just the first half and it turns out that you never know who might be harboring some fantastic Kung Fu Master skills and maybe that chintzy Kung Fu book that Sing picked up when he was a kid had more to it than meets the eye… The moves they have in this are ridiculously wonderful and great fun to watch, especially with how serious they are all taken. I highly recommend it to anyone, even those who aren’t interested.



the emperor has no skin

They LiveDue to a recommendation from some fellows at the office, well not a recommendation so much as a “I can’t believe that you haven’t seen it”, I went and watched They Live. I’ve never bothered to see it mainly due to how hit and miss John Carpenter is and the sunglasses part of the premise sounded so dumb that I just couldn’t take it. Well, I must say that I am glad that I finally got around to it. I thought it was actually pretty good. Roddy Piper, yes, is no actor. But he plays a down on his luck fellow, new to Los Angeles, who stumbles upon some sunglasses that give him a new, grayscale vision of the world. The notion is that the USA is controlled by aliens who use a mind control signal so that humans see them as humans and so that all of the brainwashing propaganda that is doled out to the public doesn’t appear to them as propaganda. As one might guess, he has a hard time getting anyone to try the glasses on, but that is one of the weakest elements of the film. Face it, how hard would it be to convince someone to put on a pair of sunglasses? There are some strange scenes (including a macho 6 minute fight scene in an alley) where Roddy just can’t get someone to try on these sunglasses. He never actually makes an attempt to convince people, to say “Why don’t you just try them on and see what you can see?”. In one, someone says that regardless of what she sees, she’ll tells him that she’ll see whatever he says he sees. He just gives up there and puts the glasses in his pocket. Doesn’t he realize that regardless of what she said to him, she would believe him if she put them on? Isn’t that his goal? And then when he basically starts punching some guy in the face since he doesn’t want to put the glasses on instead of maybe giving him a reason to put them on… So those scenes are a bit dumb. As he runs around yelling at the aliens he ends up being “framed” as a mass murdering lunatic so the chase is on as he tries to find other humans who know that truth, while avoiding the authorities. The movie is quite cheap, mainly taking place out of doors in the city, and the sunglass idea is dumb. But on the good side, it actually kind of fun. I like its rather slow pacing and not continual action. The score, while a bit odd and repetitive, does make for good, um, atmospherics, and while the sunglasses idea is silly, it is actually done to a nice effect. See, all of our signs and books and magazines are just thought control messages, presented in a nice 1980’s generic groceries type manner which is quite 1984ish. But the people can’t see that, due to the mind control signal. We just see Time, Newsweek, People and all of that. With the glasses on though, you see them as they actually read to our minds.

 

They Live

 

So there is a good message, albeit presented in a rather blunt and trite manner. It is basically an anti-corporation/consumerism movie. Very bluntly presenting a case that is anti-consumerism, anti-television, anti-conformity and anti-greed. The world is controlled by humanoid aliens who live among us, everything around us is subliminal propaganda and all of it is kept in place via a controlling signal broadcast via TV broadcasting. While everything appears normal, when you put the glasses on, it enables you to see past the signal, and causes headaches at the same time.

 

They Live

 

As the aliens are basically people with dark corpse-like faces, the idea that all you have to do is spread these sunglasses around to people and they will realize that they are being kept as “livestock” will become apparent. There is a small (and getting smaller) group working against them, trying to get these sunglasses spread around so that people can see the truth and see who is really controlling things and Roddy gets involved with them to try and save the world from these funny aliens.

 

They Live

 



victim of changes

There is always something new out there, isn’t there? Even when it’s old. Now I’ve been a Judas Priest fan for quite some time having seen them live in 1982 and I’ve been pretty consistently listening to the 6 albums that they put out from 1978 to 1984; from Killing Machine (aka Hell Bent for Leather) through Defenders of the Faith, though in the last twenty years it has primarily been Point of Entry (of course), British Steel and Unleashed in the East. But I’ve rarely heard anything past that. Turbo makes me vomit, but Painkiller is good… I’ve never heard so much as a minute from their 4 other later albums. Oddly, I’ve never made an attempt to hear their first 4 albums. I think I’ve long owned a copy of Stained Class, but I don’t recall ever listening to it. I certainly have seen them in the stores enough over the years and thinking of all the crap I’ve bought in that time, I really don’t know why I never picked them up. Anyway, why all this? Well, I finally decided to give their second album a try, 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny.

 

Sad Wings of Destiny

 

I think I did because I’ve loved Unleashed in the East for so long (thinking it one of the best live albums out there) and 4 of my favorite songs on it (especially Tyrant), I’d never heard any other way, since they reside on this record. Finally I thought, I wonder what the non-live versions sound like. Well, colour me bad. The album is great! A greater discovery for me then the Scorpion’s Speedy’s Coming was 30 years after it’s release.

Sad Wings of Destiny is easily my second favorite priest album now, right up there with Point of Entry… Why are my favorite Priest albums their least metal? I don’t know, but this certainly isn’t metal by any modern definition. And it’s much different from their later music. The music itself sounds quite sparse with Rob’s vocal very much in the foreground. To some extent it seems somewhat proggie, with some odd choruses (check out Victim of Changes and the “even greater than the live version”, Tyrant for some great vocal stylings) and there is even an instrumental piano piece, which is one of the two tracks that I can do without. Anyway, it’s hands down a great album, and it’s a weird album. One that I have to listen to a good deal to make up for all these years. Maybe I don’t need to bother with Unleashed anymore, since I don’t particularly care for live music anyway…

In a similar vein, I recently made another discovery from the vaults. While I was never as big an Iron Maiden fan, I still spent more than my share of life listening to The Number of the Beast. And I also had selected tracks from the two following albums that I give a lot of airplay to, but I’d never given their preceding album a shot. A lot of people have always recommended it suggesting that DiAnno is a better vocalist that Dickinson and that it’s less poppy. So now, Iron Maiden’s Killers.

 

Killers

 

One reason I’d always avoided was because it doesn’t have Bruce Dickinson singing on it, but man, it’s good. As above, Killers is now right up there as my second favorite Maiden album, with nary a bad song on it. Its music is quite a bit rougher than Beast, and much more so than their dramatic balladeering. It features some great instrumental and the fantastic track Wrathchild, which is the crazy old school metal high point of the album. though I could do without the bonus tracks on the CD…

I don’t know why I’d avoided these so long, but it’s nice to discover music from a loved band that is better than anything they’ve put out in decades.



the big boring bird cage

The Big Bird cageThinking Jack Hill, Sid Haig and, of course, Pam Grier… I figured that I can’t go wrong, so I finally watched the classic old exploitation film, The Big Bird Cage. While it didn’t exactly feature a big bird cage, it was a big bird something, a big bore and a big letdown. Though my limited experience with W.I.P. films is that they tend to be pretty dull, I was thinking there would have to be at least a little good stuff going on with these folks involved. Right off that bat, it didn’t seem it. The movie starts off at a big boring women’s work farm, where nothing seems to happen except bad homosexual stereotypes, bad acting and ripped clothes, luckily we are soon whisked away to a hopping night club where Sid Haig and Pam Grier are the musical entertainment… While this turns out to be tedious also, it is brief and Sid’s two-tone blue and white pants are almost worth watching the first 8 minutes for. Though even he walks through this film like it’s a big joke. Anyway, it turns out that they are actually the leaders of a lame revolutionary gang who are here to rob these cheap looking society folk. What do these have to do with each other? Well, it seems that the revolutionaries are so enamored with Pam that they decide that they need more women for their revolution. So they set Pam up to get sent to the work camp so the revolutionaries can overthrow it and steal all the women for themselves! Sadly, almost the entire rest of the film takes place in that boring work camp in the jungle where you have nothing but the memories of a mud wrestling fight between Pam and Sid and their musical number to give you hope that something fun might happen.

 

Big Bird Cage

 

But no. It doesn’t deliver. The first half of the movie is almost unbearably dull. You may find yourself rubbing your temples and looking at the time elapsed to ponder how much more of this there is to sit through. The drama with the uptight warden, the “gay” prison guards, the infighting between the girls, the “hard labor” and the danger of the bird cage never really comes to anything but a bunch of unconvincing talk. Admittedly, once Pam gets to the camp and starts trying to take over the other girls, it does perk up and we get some saucy cat-fightin’ action going on…

 

Big Bird Cage

 

But it never manages to really get interesting. There are more mud wrestles, hanging by hair, crushing by machinery and a lady who strips down and covers herself in chicken fat so she can run without people being able to get a hold of her… But it’s all boring and badly done. Sid Haig’s hammy performance reminds you that even he had to find some way to perk it up so that he could stay awake. Luckily, people who saw this when it came out only had a year to wait for the release of the true awesome classic, Coffy!



 

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