Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Death Proof

Year 8, Day 209 7/27/16 - Movie #2,404

BEFORE: "Poseidon" was something of a dead-end for me, linking-wise, for a long time.  But then I scanned through the cast, and other movies they were in, and I came up with "Death Proof", with Kurt Russell carrying over.  Now, I don't have a copy, so I have to watch this tonight on iTunes - and this works out for me, because when I think of Comic-Con, sometimes I think about Tarantino.  I met him there, over a decade ago, he was walking by our booth, trying to remain relatively incognito (this was back in the day when celebs could still walk around at Comic-Con) but my boss yelled out "Quentin!" really loudly, completely blowing his cover.  And this links to the other "Grindhouse" film, which links to my next starting point - so it's like it was meant to be.

But why not "The Hateful Eight", if I'm going to cover Tarantino?  Well, a couple of reasons.  I can watch "Death Proof" on iTunes for just $2.99, but "Hateful Eight" is available on PPV for $5.99 - too rich for my blood.  Plus it's over three hours long, and I don't have that kind of time right now.  Finally, I think I can use it as linking material in about two months, after reviewing the cast list I think it will serve a purpose then quite nicely, and by then it may even be available on some premium cable channel, at no additional cost.  So even though Kurt Russell's in that film too, I'm prepared to roll the dice and save it for later.

THE PLOT: Two separate sets of voluptuous women are stalked at different times by a scarred stuntman who uses his "death proof" cars to execute his murderous plans.

AFTER: I like a few Tarantino films, most notably "Pulp Fiction" - and I understand how a director might not want to repeat himself, but damn, why not make something similar, as in "just as good"?  I keep thinking he'll one day return to form and direct something that good again, and it just keeps on not happening.  I think maybe he peaked too soon, kind of like Orson Welles with "Citizen Kane" - Orson could have had three careers and never come close to that sort of achievement ever again, and I think Tarantino has gone the same way.  I really regard "Pulp Fiction" as a near-perfect film, and then what do you do for an encore?  How do you live up to your own hype after that?  

It's simple, you don't.  You can't.  And so we were given "Natural Born Killers" and "Jackie Brown" and "Kill Bill", none of which quite reached "Pulp Fiction" quality, not to me, at least.  "Inglourious Bastards" and "Django Unchained" both had promise, but similarly devolved into just orgiastic violence.  So maybe it's fine that I don't rush to watch "The Hateful Eight" - is it just more of the same? Jeez, there was violence in "Pulp Fiction" but it served a purpose, it was story driven, even a guy getting shot in the face had purpose, because, jeez, how do you clean up your car after something like that?  

We might ask similar questions after watching "Death Proof", a film with a singular purpose - killing women with cars.  The term "Death Proof" only applies to the driver, it turns out, and not his passengers, or anyone else on the road wearing a pair of shorts and a tank top.  Violence is not "story driven" when it IS the story, and there is no OTHER story.  And what kind of a sick mind conceives of this in the first place.  What's the "elevator pitch"?  OK, there's this guy who kills women with his car, and...that's it.  Well, at least the pitch was short, if not sweet.  

OK, I admit the story is in two parts, which are kind of mirror images of each other, the same scenario with different outcomes.  That doesn't excuse a thing, in my opinion.  The first half of the film exists only to set up violence, very graphic violence.  So, we introduce characters, just to kill them?  Geez, even a slasher film like "Friday the 13th" has more of a story arc for its victims.  I believe in karma, what comes around goes around, do unto others, etc. etc.  We are all one, so when you harm others, you are really harming yourself - and if you believe that, you'll accept a ride home from a stranger, and well, it was nice knowing you.  

Does the end justify the means?  If an evil character gets his comeuppance in the end, does that justify the glorification of (more or less) random acts of violence?  No, because those acts still happened, with devastating effects.  If a cop shoots a man who just killed 10 people, those people are still just as dead.  Also, bear in mind that the police in Texas would rather have you leave the state, than to do any real police work and prove that you're a killer.  Good to know.  Keep Austin weird, you guys.  

Similarly, I don't buy this "Grindhouse" umbrella, which states that it's OK, cool even, to have jump cuts and crossing-the-axis shots, sections that seem "accidentally" shot in black and white, scratches on the film and so forth.  Distractions, that's all they are at best, and cover-ups for some very shoddy filmmaking at worst.  We KNOW you're a professional and you're capable of making a professional-looking film, so quit screwing around.  Or just FIX it, I'm good either way.  Unless you're six kinds of OCD and your therapy involves making things that are intentionally not perfect, to familiarize yourself with the feeling of not fixing things, that I will accept. 

Surprisingly, according to the IMDB, this is the only Tarantino movie that plays out completely in chronological order, with no flashbacks.  See, Quentin, you CAN do it!  Good for you, man, you learned how to tell a linear story?  Who's a big boy now?  Now just do it every time, and we'll be jake.
Now you just have to relearn how to frame ultra-violence with a little thing called a story.  You did it before, I have faith that you can do it again.

Tonight's NITPICK POINT: How come, when our second group of fair maidens is being chased by the villain's car, and he's matching their car's speed, and bumping in to the side of their car, simply stopping, or even slowing down, isn't a valid option?  OK, maybe they're in a panic, but it seems to me like the simplest solution - if they bring the car to a slow stop, he's got nothing to chase.  And if they bring the car to a more sudden stop, he'll probably keep moving forward, at least for a while.  Either way, they'd solve the most immediate problem, and they could then drive to a police station, but then I guess that's too much of a logical notion for this film.

Also starring Rosario Dawson (last seen in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"), Zoƫ Bell (last seen doing stunts in "Poseidon"), Vanessa Ferlito (last seen in "25th Hour"), Tracie Thoms (last seen in "The Devil Wears Prada"), Sydney Tamiia Poitier (last seen in "True Crime"), Rose McGowan (last seen in "Ready to Rumble"), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (last seen in "The Thing" (2011)), Jordan Ladd (last seen in "Never Been Kissed"), Eli Roth (last seen in "Rock of Ages"), Marcy Harriell, Omar Doom, Michael Bacall, Jonathan Loughran, Marley Shelton, Nicky Katt (last seen in "Gremlins"), James Parks, Michael Parks.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Jungle Julia billboards

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Year 8, Day 208 7/26/16 - Movie #2,403

BEFORE: I came back from San Diego yesterday, my plane was late taking off due to thunderstorms expected at JFK airport and I had a bad blister on my foot, so walking home from the subway with luggage was a bitch, and I showed up at home in a terrible state.  Comic-Con went pretty well, all things considered, our panel there was a hit, and we sold a lot of merchandise at the booth.  There were a thousand petty little annoyances, from the "bros" across the aisle to the way that other people don't seem to know how to act in public, or walk in crowded spaces.  Plus that whole California attitude makes me want to scream, or at least give people who serve beverages and snacks some decent tips on doing it more efficiently, because, you know, there's a long line.  

I think the worst part about the trip is probably the traveling, though - I get somewhat anxious before the trip, unsure if I remembered to ship and pack everything, and then there's that whole flying in the air thing, which is still not 100% safe after all this time, not to mention terrorism and such, so my stomach was really upset during the trip there.  Once on the ground I checked in with my AirBnB host, had a nap and then a sandwich, and I felt better.  Set up for the convention with no problems, but then on Preview Night when returning back to my flat I missed the trolley stop, and since it was late, I figured there were no more trolleys running the other way, so I decided to walk.  Bad judgements were taking place, because at that point I'd been up for about 36 hours with just two short naps - so a 20-minute walk along a dark highway in an unfamiliar neighborhood with just the map on my phone to guide me was probably not the best plan, and this was confirmed as I watched the trolley pass by on the elevated rail, which meant I could have waited for it to go the one stop back, and been there in 5 minutes.  Oh, well.  

I did not watch any movies while in San Diego, I just didn't have the time.  But I did watch "Batman v Superman" again on the plane trip home, which helped kill 2 1/2 hours.  It did seem a lot more coherent the second time around.  But back to the watchlist - I've got one more Richard Dreyfuss film, as he carries over from "The Crew".  Then I'll have to start making some tougher decisions.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Poseidon Adventure" (Movie #456)

THE PLOT:  On New Year's Eve, the luxury ocean liner Poseidon capsizes after being swamped by a rogue wave. The survivors are left to fight for their lives as they attempt to escape the sinking ship.

AFTER: This remake doesn't bear much resemblance to the original 1972 film - where's the preacher played by Gene Hackman, who leads the small band of survivors?  Where's the lady played by Shelley Winters who turns out to be such a great swimmer?  Which version, if any, is more faithful to the book?  I'll have to do some research on this later.  So, is this a remake, a reboot, a re-imagining, or what?  Soft reboots like this are all the rage these days, what with both Marvel and DC retooling their entire casts of characters, trying to keep what works, or what they think fans want to see, and jettisoning the rest.  

I think that's what we're dealing with here - boiling the plot down to its barest elements.  As long as we've got a ragtag bunch of survivors moving through a flipped cruise ship, nobody really cares about the details, right?  So let's make sure we've got a full complement of youngish people of different races, plus a couple of veteran actors who can give off some authority.  Make one of them an ex-fireman AND ex-Mayor of NYC for good measure.  One can be an architect, good, that's good, and we'll distribute various skills among the others that are sure to come in handy down the line.  

And let's not confuse things, like that other version did, by making it seem like there's more than one course of action - even though the Captain says that the safest place is in the ballroom of the overturned ship, for various technical reasons.  Turns out even the Captain can be wrong - we wouldn't want our band of smart heroes to start second-guessing themselves, now, would we?  

There's a lot of the same sort of thing happening again and again, as the group goes from one upside-down room to the next, with a different set of challenges in each room, but with similar results - the group's probably going to be getting smaller, in other words.  And I can't help but assume this film went into production after "Titanic" was such a titanic hit - there are parts that feel like the bits where Rose and Jack had to work their way through the ship, with the water constantly rising.  No, wait, the water stayed the same, it was the ship that was sinking.  Right.  

I've been on three cruise ships, never had this or any kind of problem, except for one night of rough seas coming back to NY from Puerto Rico on the second cruise.  And I don't usually get seasick, so when I did, the sea must have been pretty rough.  And then if you recall the Costa Concordia, and that Carnival cruise line from 2013 (the one where every deck became the "poop" deck...) maybe a tragedy such as the Poseidon doesn't seem so far-fetched - but that wave, though.  Taller than the ship?  Is that even possible?

I can't help but notice that an upside-down cruise ship bears some resemblance to the San Diego Convention Center.  It's probably about the same size, too.  Maybe I can take this film as a giant metaphor for Comic-Con - both it and the Poseidon are large, confusing structures, and the crowds all run about with no sense of direction, or care for their own safety.  But maybe, just maybe, a smart group of people can navigate through all the chaos, bend the rules a little bit, and survive long enough to steer themselves back to civilization.  Hey, it's been known to happen.

Also starring Kurt Russell (last seen in "The Thing"), Josh Lucas (last seen in "J. Edgar"), Emmy Rossum, Jacinda Barrett, Mia Maestro, Mike Vogel, Kevin Dillon, Freddy Rodriguez, Andre Braugher (last heard in "Superman/Batman: Apocalypse"), Fergie, Jimmy Bennett, 

RATING: 4 out of 10 ballast tanks

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Crew

Year 8, Day 202 7/20/16 - Movie #2,402

BEFORE: I can squeeze one more film in before I have to catch my plane - I usually head to the airport at 4 am for an 8 am flight.  And this is not only because I like to get there early, it's also because the only way I usually am able to be anyplace at 8 am is by staying up all night.  This means flying across the country, getting to my AirBnB host, setting up a Comic-Con booth and working Preview Night at the convention on little or no sleep, but at least it beats oversleeping and missing my plane.  

I've got my annual rituals right before Comic-Con starts - I have to check the cable guide to make sure there aren't any movies I'm looking for that I'm about to miss, and I have to run down my checklist of what to bring.  And this is not because I tend to forget things, just the opposite - I started the checklist a couple years ago when I found I was packing for this trip on auto-pilot, throwing the proper things in my luggage, without being consciously aware of it.  So I was packing correctly, but then I wouldn't be sure about it, so with the checklist, I'm relatively sure.  Now I just need to call for a car service at 4 am to arrive at 4:30, and go and sit out on the porch and listen to the song "Leaving on a Jet Plane" on repeat - the version by Chantal Kreviazuk, the one that played in the movie "Armageddon", because it's so awesome.  

Richard Dreyfuss carries over from "The Big Fix", and Burt Reynolds is in here too, but I think this one came into my possession after I finished the Burt Reynolds chain earlier this year - so the best place for it is between two other Richard Dreyfuss films.  

THE PLOT:  Four retired mobsters plan one last crime to save their retirement home.

AFTER: The contrivance of showing a group of young tough kids, then flashing forward to them as old men - seems similar to that film "Last Vegas", which I watched last year, but this film came first, by about 13 years.  I guess they've also done this with chick flicks, like that horrible one with Rosie O'Donnell and Demi Moore.  It sort of calls "Stand By Me" to mind also, even though we never saw those kids as adults - or maybe it's the fact that both films featured Richard Dreyfuss as the narrator.  

This is a funny-enough, affectionate-enough comedy about four old men who used to be mobsters, but accidentally grew old and moved to Miami - which, unfortunately for them, became a hot-spot for young people, and they can't stand young people.  So to keep the young and hip from moving into their building, they stage a murder in the lobby, by shooting an already-dead corpse and making it look like a mob hit.  Their plan succeeds, but also leads to unforeseen comic circumstances.  

There are also many other contrivances, not just that everyone from the old neighborhood seems to live in the Miami area, but also a lot of characters who have connections to other characters, which are gradually revealed as the story wears on.  You might think there are only a few dozen people living in Miami, what with all these coincidences going on.  But I guess it is what it is.  

Someone did a really good job casting young actors who look a lot like their older counterparts, you could really believe THAT guy could age to look like Richard Dreyfuss, and THAT guy could age to look like Burt Reynolds.  I doubt it's an easy process to pick actors for this sort of thing.  

NITPICK POINT: If you had to revive someone who was unconscious, and you dragged them in to a bathroom, WHY would you stick their head in the toilet?  Jeez, man, the shower is right THERE!  Would you drink out of a toilet bowl?  Worse, after doing this, the person who gives him the swirly performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him - his head was just in the toilet!

Well, now I'm off to join MY crew in San Diego, to pull off another "con" job.  Back in one week.

Also starring Burt Reynolds (last seen in "100 Rifles"), Dan Hedaya (last seen in "Mulholland Dr."), Seymour Cassel (last seen in "Stuck On You"), Carrie-Anne Moss (last seen in "Pompeii"), Jennifer Tilly (last seen in "Play It to the Bone"), Lainie Kazan (last seen in "One From the Heart"), Jeremy Piven (last seen in "Edge of Tomorrow"), Miguel Sandoval (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Casey Siemaszko, Matthew Borlenghi, Billy Jayne, Jeremy Ratchford, Jose Zuniga, with cameos from Louis Lombardi, Frank Vincent (last seen in "Mortal Thoughts"), Fyvush Finkel (last seen in "Brighton Beach Memoirs").

RATING: 5 out of 10 Cuban cigars

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Big Fix

Year 8, Day 201 7/19/16 - Movie #2,401

BEFORE: Lupe Ontiveros carries over from "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie" - she had minor roles in both films, but to me that counts, it's enough to justify the start of a Richard Dreyfuss 3-film chain that will get me to my Comic-Con break and beyond.  

THE PLOT: An ex-'60s radical now working as a private eye is hired by an old flame to investigate a political smear campaign. The case becomes more dangerous as it unfolds.

AFTER: One of the first things we see private detective Moses Wine do, besides counting turkeys being loaded into a poultry store (long story), is smoking pot from a bong.  Could I have asked for a better follow-up to 4 Cheech & Chong movies?  I don't think so.  Plus we're still in the seedy underworld of Los Angeles (I think...) where there's a heavily Latino crowd. 

Before long, an ex-girlfriend shows up and offers him a case with political overtones, connected to an upcoming election.  Let me remind everyone, this film ended up in this exact slot nearly by accident, and it's the second day of the Republican National Convention.  (A political convention was also seen in "Meet John Doe", and a couple months back I watched "Man of the Year", with Robin Williams playing a comedian who's convinced to run for President.  So I suppose something was bound to line up with current events one of these times, I mean, even a broken clock is correct twice a day.)  It's not really a perfect confluence, since the election in this film is not for President, it's for governor of California, but I'll still take it.  

A candidate here is being discredited by some flyers that appear to give him the endorsement of a missing 1960's radical, and the flyers seem to be distributed by his opponent, in an attempt to discredit him.  I guess it's sort of like how David Duke endorsed Trump, and that sort of thing might gain you a few new voters, but not the kind that you want.  I'm sure the Democrats were the ones spreading the news about Duke's endorsement of Trump, assuming it would turn more people off than on.  Moses Wine, a former activist himself, seems to be cynical of all politics and politicians, but with child support due, he can't really turn down a paying gig.

I found this plot rather hard to follow, and the ultimate plan, which included something akin to a terrorist plot, was hard to believe.  But maybe not, considering recent terrorist events around the world.  But in 1978, wasn't it more about hijacking planes than blowing things up with trucks?  I know there have been a few attacks lately that I just can't bring myself to read about, it's just too disheartening - but I worry that, like many people, I've become desensitized to reports of mass shootings, terrorist attacks and excessive use of force by the police.  Is it enough that I feel guilty about not being able to hear about these things any more?  Probably not.

Also starring Richard Dreyfuss (last seen in "The Goodbye Girl"), Susan Anspach (last seen in "Play It Again, Sam"), Bonnie Bedelia (last seen in "Fat Man and Little Boy"), John Lithgow (last seen in "Interstellar"), F. Murray Abraham (last seen in "Inside Llewyn Davis"), Ron Rifkin (last seen in "Dragonfly"), Nicolas Coster (last seen in "Betsy's Wedding"), Fritz Weaver, Sidney Clute (last seen in "The Best Years of Our Lives"), John Cunningham, John Mayo, Ofelia Medina, Rita Karin, with a cameo from Mandy Patinkin.

RATING: 4 out of 10 license plates