Mike K Half-Assedly Reviews Things

Reviews Of Movies, Music And Other Things.

Posts tagged 365 movies

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Movie #365: The Cruise

I mentioned preferring my documentaries to have narrative structure in my writeup of Moog, and I guess on watching this I should amend that: If a documentary has a subject that lends itself to having a narrative, it should have one. You see, this film is completely structure-free, but honestly I’m not sure a real narrative could be made of it, and it’s somewhat rambling nature is sort of befitting tim ‘Speed’ Levitch, it’s subject.

I find that, for whatever reason, if I am sitting on a bus and there is someone there with an excess of strange ideas and the need to tell someone about it, I’m the first one they talk to.  For instance, twice I’ve ended up speaking to a man who, among other things, told me a neighborhood kid he knew predicted the OJ Trial, Christopher Reeve’s accident, and the Waco siege back in the 60’s. I’m not comparing Levitch to this for the actual content of what he’s saying, which often makes a surprising amount of sense, but more the way he speaks: In one straight monologue he’ll start off admiring a piece of architecture and end with a description of a sexual fantasy and somehow it’ll actually seem kind of seamless. Between bits of his daily life there are frequent segments of him conducting the doubledecker bus tours of New York City he’s apparently most known for: It kind of struck me that if I was on one of these his informative but dramatic, breathless and very stream of conscious style of conducting tours would seem like an act, but apparently that’s just what he’s like, at least when he’s around someone who seems willing to listen.

I can see people getting annoyed over the course of the film, especially due to Levitch’s high, nasally voice, but I generally found him to be an intelligent, likeable guy with some interesting ideas. Basically if you’ve ever ended up spending about an hour with the strangest person you’ve ever met, and actually found the conversation interesting, this might be up your alley. 3/5

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Where To Next: Well, I think I’m giving this a bit of a rest - maybe I’ll start over next year - I do think it would be cool to actually have this begin and end over the course of an actual year next time. Maybe instead I’ll end up watching an episode of a tv show a day and blogging about it here instead or something.

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Movie #364: Buffalo 66

It’s sort of weird that I’ve heavily criticized movies for having an “immature jerk in love who really doesn’t change much over the course of the film” sort of main character (see The Science Of Sleep), but somehow I came out liking this one. Maybe it’s because Vincent Gallo does manage to make his character sympathetic in the end even if he is a jerk.A key moment is that, when he initially kidnaps Christina Ricci’s character to bring home to his parents, he threatens that if she doesn’t make him look good, he’ll shoot her and also never talk to her again. It’s a hilarious line, but it also kind of shows that his character puts on a tough veneer but is actually childlike.

I still kind of wish there was some more back story on Christina Ricci’s character to see why she reacts as she does to being kidnapped - there’s a definite sense of her being broken and lonely herself, but there’s never anything specific about that. Then again, it seems like this is because the movie is mostly from Gallo’s character’s point of view, and he’s shown to not really be interested in anything about her past.

Oh, and this doesn’t fit anywhere, but I’m describing this scene because I liked it so much and it was sort of pivotal to me coming around to this film: At one point Gallo and Ricci are at a bowling alley - Ricci goes offscreen while he’s playing, and the next thing you know the lights go down and she’s doing a tap dance routine to a King Crimson ballad. Then the lights go back to normal and it turns out she evidently just wandered off and started dancing to music in her head. It’s kind of funny, but also oddly beautiful. 3/5

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Movie #363: A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

Early on in this film, I kind of thought they were mainly just reverting to the original movie’s Freddy, but in fact in some ways they even attempt to make him even ‘edgier” and more realistic: “edgier” because this time he’s more explicitly depicted as a child molester, not just a child murderer (to be fair Freddy has always been creepily sexual to his young female victims, and notably the “I’m your boyfriend now” line is retained), and more realistic because even in dreams he doesn’t really do anything that would normally be physically impossible. The child-molester angle works to an extent, but trying to bring him more down to earth just makes things a bit more boring: As much as increasingly goofy killing sequences were part of the decline, a lot of the appeal of the original movie was the sense of Freddy being able to do anything. Oh, and I guess Jackie Earl Harvey’s Rorschach-ian monotone fits in here too.

So yeah, no particularly inventive changes to the story other than touching more on child abuse and repressed memories, a passable Freddy, and very few genuinely scary moments. Overall I guess this doesn’t piss on the original any more than some of the actual sequels do, but on the other hand the sequels were never quite this boring either:  Say what you will about how ridiculous Freddy’s Dead was, it at least usually wasn’t dull. 2.5/5

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Movie #362: Hobo With A Shotgun

Well, it does deliver on that title. This was one of two fake trailers featured in Grindhouse that ultimately became real movies (the other being Machete) and it’s roots as just being a ridiculous title and a handful of gory action scenes definitely show. That said, Ruter Hauer does the badass old guy thing well, and I like that this is pretty committed to it’s own ridiculousness.  It’s made pretty clear that this takes place in a completely over-the-top parody of cinematic depictions of corrupt, crime-filled cities and nothing is going to be terribly realistic.This is immediately evident when our main villains show up, a white-suited gangster (Brian Downey, who reminds me a little of Jack Nicholson’s version of The Joker here) and his two Jersey-Shore-esque sons. Even so, it occasionally gets a little too high on the weirdness quotient: The second act introduces a pair of guys in makeshift robotic body armor called The Plague - they are pretty cool, but they kind of show up out of nowhere and feel like they belong to a different movie altogether. Maybe they were just thrown in there because someone was hoping there could be a spinoff movie of a spinoff movie. Honestly, I might watch it.

The one odd thing is that I’m not quite sure if the whole “the homeless deserve respect” message is something they’re genuinely trying to throw into an otherwise morality-free movie, or if it’s just there as part of the homage to old exploitation films - it mostly leads to a few too many scenes of Hauer bonding with a prostitute he saved (who does at least get to kick a little ass herself by the way), which fail to be terribly moving and generally slow things down a bit. Still, it succeeds at it’s modest goal of being garish and ridiculously bloody without just ending up being monotonous (for the most part). 3/5

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Movie #361: Tales Of Terror

Another Roger Corman/Vincent Price adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe, this time in anthology form, with Price playing a main role in all three.

There’s not a lot to the Morella segment, and even for being about 20 minutes long, it moves a bit slowly. The beginning is very talky due to the two main characters having to explain their backstories to each other, although that aspect is at least done in a way that feels sort of natural. Still, there are some nice moments of tension, it sets the mood, and it’s interesting to get Price in a more serious mode before the much sillier take on The Black Cat.

The Black Cat is another case of Corman mixing a couple of different Poe tales into one piece – it’s actually more of a version of The Cask of Amontilladothan it is The Black Cat itself, although the cat of the title is present and it makes a certain amount of sense to combine the two since both involve sealing someone or something up behind a wall. The more humorous approach this takes is never laugh out loud funny (other than a brief iguana hallucination that of course brought me back to The Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans), but it is pretty fun to see Peter Lorre’s stammering, lower-class drunkard playing off Price’s snooty wine-taster. Actually, what’s interesting here is that Price and Lorre’s characters are named directly after the two main characters from The Cask of Amontillado, but the personalities of both are sort of reversed:  In The Cask of Amontillado, Montresor tricks the easily led drunkard Fortunato and leads him to his death, but here Fortunato seems like the foolhardy, drink-addled one at first, making it much more unexpected that he gets the upper hand.

The final short,The Facts In The Case Of  M. Valdemar is back to the straight horror approach of the first one. However, I find it a lot better paced than Morella, the idea of someone becoming dead but aware through hypnotism is a more unique and creepy premise, and there are some pretty terrifying effects: Of course I’m mainly speaking of Price’s face melting away. 

Overall it’s not the first one of these I’d recommend, but if you’ve seen one or two other Corman/Price Poe adaptations and liked them, then go for it. 3/5 

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Movie #360: Maniac

This was less of a typical slasher type film than I was expecting – instead it’s got something of the same voyeurism that would later be in full force in Henry Portrait Of A Serial Killer: Even most of the villain-centric slashers I’ve seen don’t focus entirely on the killer to the point of extensively showing what he does when he’s not killing. Which definitely works in this film’s favor in terms of horror: I’m not necessarily scared by excessive gore, but I am made pretty uncomfortable by things like watching someone delivering lengthy monologues to a bloody mannequin in his bed or panting heavily while ogling storefront displays.

Overall, the acting is about average for a b-movie of it’s sort, although there is a pretty suspenseful sequence where an actress does a very good job of getting across her character’s fright at being stalked in a public restroom without having a single line of dialogue. And the major exception is Joe Spinnelli as Frank, the “maniac” of the title: it would have been very easy to ham up the role and end up with something campy, but if anything he tends to under-sell some of his creepiest lines, which makes him that much more unsettling. Plus it has to be believable that he could keep himself under control long enough to interact with people and come off as relatively normal, as he does more often in the second half of the film.

There’s not much of a plot to this, which can make things get monotonous after a while, but the important thing is that it did effectively get under my skin. 3/5

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Odd Trivia: You know the song “Maniac” by Michael Sambello, as heard on the Flasdance soundtrack? That was originally inspired by this movie, and had significantly different lyrics (which reportedly included the chorus “He’s a maniac, maniac that’s for sure / he will kill your cat and nail him to your door”).

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Movie #359: Dreamscape

This had the potential to be more interesting than it was: It did the whole entering other people’s dreams thing a few decades before Inception (which I still haven’t seen somehow), but doesn’t really do much more with the idea than use it to set up a bunch of set pieces. Even the political intrigue element that gets introduced could have been more interesting: there were more than hints of using dreams to get at secret information, but ultimately Christopher Plummer’s villain just wants to use it so he can have an army of assassins who can pull a Freddy* whenever he can gain from someone’s death. Oh, and also I’m a little weirded out by the fact that our hero Dennis Quaid basically attempts dream-rape and still gets the girl.

Said set pieces are generally pretty dated (Snake Man is particularly silly, especially since he sort of made me think of a live-action Trogdor), but occasionally get surreal enough to be interesting: The very same sequence that introduced Snake Man also gives us a kind of striking-looking chase scene across a zigzagging Suessian staircase in the middle of a black void, and there’s a later portion in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that I like.  Also, Christopher Plummer is pretty intimidating and convincing as a dogmatic political extremist, and it’s always fun to see David Patrick Kelly as yet another egotistical jerk. 2.5/5

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*Actually, this came out the same year as the first Nightmare On Elm Street movie, and coincidentally enough it does involve a character growing metal claws, ripping someone’s heart out and making a lame pun about it.

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Movie #358: The Lost World (1925)

So the plot is pretty cheesy, and there’s a little bit of out of place slapstick and unfortunate racial stereotyping, but said plot never gets in the way of showcasing the effects; I suspect I’m with most people who were watching this when it was new in that I was just there to see myself some dinosaurs. And for the time, the dinosaurs were pretty good - they’re obvious stop motion clay models, but with more detailed movements and more expressiveness than I was expecting - they breathe and everything. The main thing I found cool about this was seeing how they worked around the many limitations of stop motion animation and indoor sets to try to create a believable prehistoric world. Effects-wise, I also liked the volcano scenes, and the finale wherein London was terrorized by a brontosaurus. 3/5

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Movie #357: Tangled

I was pleasantly surprised by this, especially because I remember the marketing making it seem like some kind of Shreky postmodern take on Rapunzel, when computer animation aside, this is more in line with other Disney efforts but without as much as an attempt to make everything epic. It’s no Princess And The Frog, and the songs aren’t terribly memorable aside form the villain song “Mother Knows Best”, but it’s a pretty likeable effort. Mother Gothel is a pretty memorable villain, primarily because, well, I think everyone’s known a mom who acts just like that. And there are some pretty hilarious moments, especially the unexpected musical number at the tavern full of hardened criminals. 3/5

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Movie #356: River’s Edge

It took me a while to figure out if this was meant as drama or dark comedy, until I figured out that it’s pretty much both at once. Basically there are a lot of things that can’t have possibly not been meant to be humorous (i.e. the line “wastin’ pigs is radical”), and yet there’s the serious, disturbing theme of teens who are too jaded and/or shallow to particularly care that one of their friends murdered his girlfriend. Aside from the bleakness, Crispin Glover seems to be the most love-or-hate aspect of the film: his faux-California accent is a little much, but to me his character is clearly supposed to be this manic, constantly over-reacting spazz, which is exactly how he plays it. I was also kind of surprised at Keanu Reeves’ performance here - his character is the stoner type, but he has a few scenes where he’s believably angry, and has an at least kind of convincing character arc. 3/5

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