Monday, April 30, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Zombie and Zombieland

Zombies have long been a staple of horror genre, and for good reason.  There's something about reanimated flesh that captures our imaginations.  Even for the non-horror loving folks out there, most religions deal with the dead coming back to life in some way or another; it isn't exactly a new meme.

For all the great zombie movies out there...From the original Frankenstein and Mummy movies to Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later, there are two that really stand out, and not just because they begin with the letter Z.

Zombie is a low-budget movie about someone, I think a girl, who goes to a remote island to look for someone else, maybe her father.  I can't remember, because it's been a long time since I saw this movie and because the plot was absolutely inconsequential.  This movie is about gore, and it delivers.  There's one scene involving the close-up of an eye and a large piece of wood.  It does not end well, for the eyeball or the wood.  I will never forget it.  I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but for a single scene to stick in my memory after decades...well, that's an impactful scene.  And as horror goes, this scene is truly horrible.  Seriously.  (NOTE: I am not recommending that you do this, but just as an FYI, if you were to search for "Big Fucking Splinter to the Eyeball" on YouTube, you could see what I am talking about.) 

Zombieland, on the other hand, takes the genre and makes it funny, a lot like Shaun of the Dead did but using a title that starts with Z and doesn't compete with Star Wars for inclusion in my A-Z Challenge.  Come for the double-tap, stay for Bill Murray's biggest regret.  Zombieland had a great style, and the acting in it was perfect...the cast played it like it was real without overacting or getting too campy, which can work if done right (see Evil Dead 2), but that's a crap shoot that can kill a movie if it backfires.

Thanks to all who stopped by, especially the dedicated few who stayed for the entire A-Z series!


Saturday, April 28, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Young Frankenstein

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger.  Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."
- Mel Brooks

Young Frankenstein is one of many comedy greats from Mel Brooks.  I'm glad I had an open letter to fit him in here.  Between this, History of the World, Blazing Saddles, The Producers, and Spaceballs, not to mention Get Smart! (the TV show), it's no small wonder he has an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy on his mantel.

Young Frankenstein (pronounced Fraank-en-steen) also features Gene Wilder, who was a gifted comic performer (and frequent Mel Brooks collaborator), and the late great Peter Boyle (aka Raymond's dad) as a singing monster.  And then there's Teri Garr in her youthful hotness and Marty Feldmen with his bulging eyes...he had such great facial expressions this movie could have worked as a silent film.

If you have never seen this movie, shame on you.  It's an American classic, and you owe it to yourself to watch it, followed immediately by The Producers, Blazing Saddles, History of the World Part I, and Spaceballs.

May the Schwartz be with you.


Friday, April 27, 2012

A-Z Challenge: X-Men

The first X-Men movie was a great film.  It provided in-depth origins stories for some characters while teasing at the origins of others, leaving me satisfied and wanting more.  The action hit the mark, and the story was fueled by plenty of angst, giving a nice dramatic edge.  That angst is a big part of what made the X-Men, and other superheros like Spider-man so gave them a commonality with the teens (and adults) who followed their stories.

Unlike Superman, who is just solid awesomeness except in the presence of kryptonite, these heroes are deeply flawed.  Wolverine is probably the most enigmatic (and most bad-ass), but even Magneto earns our sympathy, even if he is the bad guy.

The story in the X-Men goes beyond a simple good guy vs. bad guy tale.  There's a different morality to it, and the way it parallels our present-day societal fears and prejudices makes it even more commendable.

This is probably a bit deep for a movie that centers around mutants who can controls others' minds, shoot lasers from their eyes, and make adamantuim claws shoot from their hands, but I just call 'em as I see 'em.  X-Men is a good movie.  I attribute half of this to the characters and stories the movie is based upon, but also to the talents of director Bryan Singer, who also directed The Usual Suspects, which was an alternate for my U-post and a fantastic movie.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Wall-E

Wall-E ranks among the best kids' movies of all time.  The animation is spectacular.  The imagery not only nails the scenery of a world lost and forgotten, it successfully shows the thoughts and feelings of characters in a movie with very little dialogue.  It is true art.

One of my friends saw this with his kids and didn't like it.  "It's just somebody's dumb political message," he said.  He had seen it before I did, so this thought echoed in my head when I watched the movie fore the first time.  I felt bad for my friend by the end; he had let misplaced political bias overshadow a great, funny movie.

I loved the biting satire when Wall-E gets to the cruise ship.  Is this where humanity is headed, to be fat, lazy, semi-boneless beings dependent on technology?  I don't know, but it makes for some funny situations and an entertaining kids' movie.  And there's nothing wrong with a message about taking care of the environment.  Believing in or denying global warming isn't the point of the film.  It's about doing the right thing.  That's a message I'm okay with, personally. 


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Very Bad Things

Very Bad Things is a black comedy.  I am almost ashamed to admit how hard I laughed at this movie.  It's one where you will get it or you won't, and even if you get it, you may not find it funny.  After all, it's about a bachelor party gone wrong where a hooker gets killed and dismembered.  And then it gets weird...

Christian Slater turns in a great performance as a motivational speaker, who also happens to be the best man in this wedding party.  Never one to let reality get him down, his pep talks inspire his friends to go to great lengths to protect themselves from the accidental crime their buddy Michael (Jeremy Piven) committed.  But at every turn, things go from bad to worse, and the hooker is not the only one to die.

It would be a fun game to watch this movie and count the number of times it makes you say, "Oh no they di'nt!"  Even better if you drink each time you say it, but you may get alcohol poisoning by the time to get to the climactic wheelchair battle at the end.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Up

Sometimes a kids' movie comes out that not really a kids' movie.  It's just a really great movie that kids will probably like, too.  Up falls into this category.

Up is perhaps the best, most original new story to have come out of Hollywood in the past decade.  If you extended that time-frame back to "ever" I would have a hard time arguing with you.  Thinking back to my R-post and Ridiculous Remakes, the originality brought to the screen in Up makes the remakes even more ridiculous.  Here is a movie with characters, settings, and events that are fresh, vibrant, and damn funny.

When movies are made right they can hold powerful influence over our emotions.  Many of the films I've listed in this series are movies that inspire a reaction: a gasp, a cringe, tears of laughter, tears of joy.  Up is a hard movie to watch to the end with dry eyes.  It's also hard to watch quietly, without laughing.

I couldn't pick a favorite part, but some of the more memorable scenes are:

- When Russel first knocks on his door and introduces himself over and over
- When they first meet Doug the dog, who loves them immediately even though he just met them; a dog has never been so perfectly written.
- The first time Alpha speaks.  It's not just the squeaky voice, but they way he speaks, very formal, almost Yoda-like in his syntax.  I can't not laugh.
- The cone of shame.  Again, a keen understanding of the dog's psychology is at play...look at Doug's face and body posture when they put him in the cone, they nailed it.
- When Mr. Fredricksen is emptying out his house at Paradise Falls and he finds Ellie's scrapbook; he flips to the end where she was going to put their adventure to the falls and finds she had filled it out with their adventures together and holy crap this might even make me cry thinking about it.  Squirrel!  There, that's better...


Monday, April 23, 2012

A-Z Challenge: True Romance

I don't know why I like chick-flicks that aren't really chick-flicks.  The Princess Bride fell into this category, and we hit it again with True Romance, a movie I had passed over countless times while perusing the shelves at Blockbuster (NOTE: It has been ages since I set foot in a Blockbuster, I don't think there's even one open near here anymore).  I would have continued passing True Romance up based on the title had a friend not recommended it.

This movie is a triple-serving of holy f*&^ing sh!t.  I guess it does truly cover the romance angle, but it ranks so high in bad-assery the romance is a bit of a sub-plot.  Clarence (Christian Slater) is set up with Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a call girl, but they fall in love.  Clarence promises to get her things from her pimp, Drexel (an unrecognizable Gary Oldman in what, in my opinion, is the best supporting performance by a character actor in ever, period).  Clarence grabs the wrong bag and ends up with a suitcase full of coke, which mobsters Christopher Walken and pre-Soprano James Gandolfini want back.

And if that's not enough to fill the big screen we have Brad Pitt smoking a honey bear bong, Val Kilmer as the soul of Elvis, Samuel L. Jackson confessing his dietary habits before getting a bellyfull of shotgun, and Dennis Hopper taunting a hit-man in an epic racist rant.  And then there's the Mexican standoff at the end...a lot like the end of Reservoir Dogs, in a way.  Did I mention this was written by Quentin Tarantino?

This is another one for my top five favorites.  Aside from the mayhem, of which there is plenty, it still has humor and despite some preposterous turns of events, still feels real.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Star Wars

Star Wars defined my childhood.  I was in kindergarten when the movie (and toy line) came out.  R2-D2 was my first action figure, followed by every other one they ever made, including the ones you had to mail-order 10 proofs-of-purchase to get.

The first time I saw the movie was at a drive-in theater with my older brothers.  That sentence sums up absolutely everything I remember about that event.  I was only six. 

Remember, back on letter C, when I talked about our Betamax?  My dad rented three movies the first night we had the Betamax: Caddyshack, Conan the Barbarian, and Star Wars.  My vote for first movie to watch was Star Wars.  I was outvoted; we watched Caddyshack...But the next morning I was up at the crack of dawn watching Star Wars.  I ended up getting a copy of it and I believe I have watched it well over 100 times in my life.

I have a cousin 45 days younger than me, and he only lived 20 minutes away for most of my childhood.  He collected Star Wars stuff, too.  My mom and my aunt colluded to make sure that our presents didn't overlap on Christmas...I got cool stuff he wanted and he got cool stuff I wanted.  Together we had everything.

My favorite movie in the series is The Empire Strikes Back.  It is most abundant in awesomeness out of all six movies.

My kids have seen most of the movies, and it's hell explaining which one they are watching.  "It's the original one, but it's episode, this one came first but The Phantom Menace is movie number one...Actually, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith come before this, but this is the first one they made..."

The prequels are not as good as the original movies, but I still like them.  I can't not like them, the series is far too ingrained in every fiber of my being, and it's been there since I was six years old.  I'm loyal that way.


Friday, April 20, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Robocop and Ridiculous Remakes

Robocop is a great movie.  The thing that struck me most when I first saw it at the tender age of 16 was the lack of opening credits.  The movie title comes up and then right into the film, and if there are any dull moments I don't remember them.  It's mayhem and violence and retribution silly commercials for futuristic games and guys mutated by enormous vats of toxic sludge, and then it ends like a splurt of blood from Red Foremen's jugular (Watching this movie now, I would keep expecting him to call Robocop "dumbass."  I'd buy that for a dollar!).

Word on the street is they are planning to remake this movie.  Why?  The original was great.  The effects were award-winning and still hold up, in my opinion.  The acting was superb.  Red Foreman was a great villain, and his crew were chilling in the way the laughed and joked while blowing the limbs off of Murphy.  And there was a bad guy named Dick, and everyone said his name with the right-but-wrong inflection, because he was one.

There's no need to re-make this movie.  There's a new Spider-Man movie coming out, too, and that also screams needless remake to me.  Who knows, maybe they will have some magic formula that makes it great, like Batman Begins had in rebooting the caped crusader.  I kind of doubt it, but time will tell. 

I guess my frustration stems from the knowledge that this is lazy story-telling, demanded by lazy marketing.  There are better movies that can be made without relying on a re-hash of old material.  We don't need to keep going back to TV shows (Rockford Files starring Vince Vaughn!) and movies that aren't even ten years old yet. 

That being said, I am very excited to see Prometheus, Ridley Scott's prequel to the Alien franchise.  But the excitement comes from knowing that Alien has very little to do with Prometheus, it has its own plot and story and the Alien references are more like Easter Eggs than a central plot.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Quentin Tarantino

I'm taking slight liberties again, using a person's name instead of a movie title, but this serves as a better movie-related Q-word than Quest for Fire, The Quest, or Q-The Winged Serpent...Let's face it, the pickins are slim when it comes movies with Q-titles.

Reservoir Dogs was the first Quentin Tarantino movie I saw.  It is intense with great pacing, and it's almost all dialogue-driven.  There are some flashbacks to the robbery and brief foot and car chases, but 99% of the movie is the characters trying to figure out what's wrong with their heist job and each other (there's a snitch in their midst).  The Mexican stand-off at the end is classic.

Pulp Fiction is easily in my top 5 favorite movies of all time. (NOTE:  How many times have I said that in this series?  Like six or seven?)  I first saw Pulp Fiction in the theater in college.  The opening dialogue made me wonder if I was going to like it...It was a little tough to figure out what the heck they were talking about.  Then Hunny-Bunny whips out a pistol and shouts something about executing every last one of you mother-f#$@ers and surfer guitar kicks in, and holy shit!  Hang on, it's a wild ride till the end, kind of like a shot of adrenaline to the heart, and the soundtrack is great.

Kill Bill (both volumes) is a terrific homage to the spaghetti western era of martial arts movies.  I like how Quentin showed off his chops by mimicking old film styles.  Plus the action kept things moving (NOTE: By "action" I mean lethal sword-fighting and gallons of blood), which is a nice touch considering how his dialogue drives so much of his movies' content.

I'm not a huge fan of Jackie Brown, and Inglorious Basterds was good but not phenomenal (with the exception of Christopher Waltz's villain, he played the overly-nice but scary guy perfectly).  Quentin has a new movie coming out this Christmas called Django Unchained, starring Jamie Foxx as a slave out for revenge on Leonardo DiCaprio.  Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Waltz, and Kurt Russel will also be in it.

I could go on, and talk about his writing credits for movies like Natural Born Killers and True Romance, but the former wasn't that great and the latter will be discussed when we get to the letter T...


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A-Z Challenge: The Princess Bride

The first time I saw this I was in high school with a group of friends.  I didn't want to watch it.  The title screamed "chick flick" in the worst possible way.  I was just like the kid in the movie.  And, just like the kid in the movie, I got hooked early on and loved the story by the end.

If you haven't seen The Princess Bride, it's worth your time to check it out.  It has adventure, sword-fighting (left-handed and right-handed, by the way), giants, intense logical arguments, deception, torture, magic, and the very best revenge scene ever filmed.

I'm totally serious about that revenge scene.  It makes the movie, and it give me goosebumps every time I watch it.  I would hope that if I am ever killed by a six-fingered man over a magnificent sword, that my kids would avenge my death in a similar manner.

Every post has made me want to see the movie I've written about.  Several of them happened to be on TV within a few days of posting, which either means that TV programming is reading my mind and catering to my whims, or I like popular movies.  I'm going with the former.  But for this movie, and this revenge scene, I could not resist going to YouTube to watch it again.  Here you go, in case you have the same irrepressible urge...

Click the link.  I tried to embed it but blogger won't take the link and the blogger YouTube search won't pull this video and I'm frustrated and have stopped trying.  Dammit.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A-Z Challenge: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Today's post is cheating, in a way.  I'm taking advantage of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to talk about Jack Nicholson's best movies, so this is a multi-film post.  If it's not cheating, you can consider it bonus material.

First, let's start with the chosen subject: In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Randall Patrick McMurphy, a common criminal, has his sentence commuted from jail to a psyche ward.  Unhinged but clearly sane, McMurphy makes his mark on the other patients and the staff at the hospital, especially his nemesis, Nurse Ratched. This movie is fantastic.  The characters and the actors who portray them are engaging, entertaining, and realistic.  At it's core is an incredible performance by Jack Nicholson in what I think is the third greatest performance of his very noteworthy career.

His greatest performance, in my own humble opinion, is in As Good as It Gets.  Here his craft is honed and precise, his character filled with quirks but 100% believable.  The movie seems like it was written just for him, like the entire effort was put in place so Jack could bring Melvin Udall to life.  Like many of the movies I've mentioned, this is a mix...It's a hilarious comedy, but it has a hell of a lot of heart and is a poignant drama at the same time.  If you have not seen As Good as It Gets, you should go see it.  Now.

Nicholson's second greatest performance is as Jack Torrence in The Shining.  It evokes of one of his lines from As Good as It Gets: "Go peddle your crazy somewhere else.  We're all stocked up here."  The Shining is chock full o' memorable moments.  Like when he's stalking his wife up the stairs, demanding the baseball bat, or when he pokes his face through the door and says, "Here's Johnny!"  Few people can turn on the crazy like Jack Nicholson.

And I'll close out with an honorable mention: He made The Joker an icon before Heath Ledger did.  He totally made Time Burton's Batman, again amping up the insanity and giving an inspired performance that stole every scene.  I won't compare his performance to Ledger's because they are too different, it's like trying to pick my favorite ice cream (Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby) over my favorite potato chip (Ruffles)...they are both totally delicious, one's sweet and salty the other is pure salt, so it depends on what I'm in the mood for. 


Monday, April 16, 2012

A-Z Challenge: No Country for Old Men

I love to read.  I love to watch movies.  Watching movies made from books I've read...well, that is a different story most of the time.

No Country for Old Men has one major thing going against it, and one major thing going for it.  Both of those things are Cormac McCarthy.  His prose is so unique it brings immediate gravitas to all of his works.  Once I start reading one of his books there's a cadence to his words that is almost hypnotic; he is truly a gifted writer, and a filmmaker can work character motivations, dialogue, and general descriptions of scenery into a movie, but the language chosen for the overall narrative...that's a color that doesn't exist on a director's palette.

Fortunately for the Cohen Brothers, who directed No Country for Old Men, McCarthy's original intent for this was a screenplay, and with his mastery of language he wrote a book that is almost exactly like watching a movie.  The resulting film is one of the best book-to-movie translations I've ever seen.  I watched the movie first, and when I read the book it was like watching the movie all over again.

McCarthy's The Road is perhaps my favorite book, and that movie isn't bad, but it's no match for the book.  The Harry Potter movies are good, especially from a visual standpoint, but they had to cut so many things out and re-arrange the story that it's hard to watch those movies while the books are fresh in my mind (I finished reading the series about two months ago).  Perhaps time will dim the memory of the books and the films will serve as kind reminders of the main story lines.  I've only seen the movies through The Goblet of Fire (number 4) so we'll see.

Honorable mentions for adaptations go to:

- Stand By Me.  This movie, made from Stephen king's novella The Body, quite possibly ties for best adaptation.

- LOTR.  Even though I have my opinions on the change to the primary climax of the three books / movies, overall Peter Jackson did a better job than anyone else could have.  Of that I'm certain.  He took some major risks, not the least of which was shooting all three movies at once.  The things that work in these films far outweigh the flaws.  I own them all on DVD, have watched them repeatedly, and will watch them all again.

- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  This is a special mention because I think both film versions (the original Swedish and the recent David Fincher "American" version) are better than the book.  This is a rare case where the novel had a great story, but it was weighed down by hundreds of pages of needless backstory, which the movies cut out and effectively cleaned up the plot by doing so.

- The Sum of All Fears.  This is the worst book-to-movie adaptation I have ever seen.  Harrison Ford would not return to play Jack Ryan again, so they replace him with... Ben Affleck?  Nothing personal against Ben, he's a good actor, but they had to change the character from an older guy with decades of experience (that directly related to the plot of this book, a la his relationship with the Russian president) to a young analyst who just happened to write a paper on the guy so he knows exactly how he think s and how he will react when faced with the prospect of global nuclear war...I'm calling bullshit.  Clancy's books have a sense of verisimilitude that makes them great, and when you strip that away you have nothing but a stinking Hollywood cheeseball.  I'm just sayin...


Saturday, April 14, 2012

A-Z Challenge: The Matrix

"What is he doing?"

"He's beginning to believe."

The Matrix has me.  Since first viewing, I was totally hooked on this kung fu sci-fi mindf*&^ of a movie.  It is awesomeness cubed.  (NOTE:  That should not be taken as any reference toward awesomeness regarding the two sequels.  I reserve my extended praise for the first movie only.)

I don't know how many times I have seen this movie, and I don't care.  I will watch it again.  The Matrix is easily in my top 5 favorite movies of all time, genre be damned.  It may even be number 1, I'd need to go through some serious reflection to determine what movie could unseat it.  Star Wars, maybe, but I don't know...

Through this challenge I've been pontificating on my favorites, but what about you?  What's your favorite movie?  It doesn't have to start with "M."


Friday, April 13, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Lord of the Rings

I'm going all-inclusive today:  My Lord of the Rings (LOTR) post covers The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. 

I was stuck in hard core geek-out mode for a long time anticipating these movies, and they did not disappoint (NOTE: except one major thing, which I will rant about in a minute).  The scenery was epic; New Zealand IS Middle Earth.  The costumes and set designs were true to the story and also true to life...They actually made chain-mail armor by hand. 

The visual effects were stunning.  From the evil gleam in Gollum's eye to Sauron's fiery gaze, all looked and felt real.  The actors hit the right notes for each character, and the entire series was damn near flawless, except one little thing...

The screwed up the whole climax of the entire three-movie series.  You know, the part where they actually destroy the ring, the specific task they had been working on for roughly 9 hours of movie? 

In the book, Gollum bites off Frodo's ring finger and, in a fit of joy, celebrating his reunion with his Precious, he falls off the edge of the cliff into the vat of molten lava below.

In the movie, after Gollum bites off Frodo's finger, Frodo attacks him and they both spill over the edge, Frodo clinging to a rock while Gollum plummets to the lava holding the ring.

Gone is the irony.  The irony of Gollum doing himself in, of his greed destroying the ring, of the ring that was created by evil being destroyed by evil.  The irony of his being happy and falling to his doom, destroying the ring in a fit of joy...blown away and replaced by three more minutes of slo-mo melodrama. 

I forgive Peter Jackson for this grievous misjudgement, but just barely.  If the rest of the series kicked one ounce less ass, this would have really spoiled it for me.  But as it is, the rest of the series did kick mountains of ass, so I'll grin and bear it.

Although I am nervous about the extra material they are adding to The Hobbit... 


Thursday, April 12, 2012

A-Z Challenge: King Kong

King Kong used to play every Thanksgiving.  I remember watching it at Grandma's house, usually just the beginning, and sometimes the end when we got home.  Due to the 20-minute drive time, it was years before I actually saw the whole movie uninterrupted. 

This movie was remade (poorly) in the 1970s, and Peter Jackson did a decent job with his version more recently, but nothing compares to the original.  King Kong was a success from its first series of showings, where it sold-out ten shows a day for four days.  It didn't get any Oscars, though...unfortunately for Kong the visual effects category didn't exist yet in 1933.

But still, a fantastic story about a huge ape on an island with dinosaurs and giant snakes, with a beauty and the beast motif snuggled inside it, that's what movies are all about, in my opinion.  I love films that wrap many different elements together and present a visual spectacle driven by a compelling story. 

I've never seen the original King Kong on a big screen.  I wonder if that would enhance the experience or call out some of the technical disadvantages of the early days of film?  I don't think I'll ever know, but if I do get the chance to see Kong in full 70-mm glory, I know I'll take it.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A-Z Challenge: The Jerk

Last night my dog tried to play out a scene from The Jerk.  It's uncanny, because I don't think he reads this blog so he had no idea I was going to post about this movie today.  At about 3am he came to my side of the bed and reached his little paws up to the mattress...he can't jump high enough to get on.

"Leo, go lay down," I said, half-asleep.  He jumped back up, trembling so hard it shook the mattress, which is pretty intense shaking for a neurotic miniature schnauzer.

"Leo, go lay down you f*&^%$ r&^$%#."  He ignored this advice and jumped back up, still shaking.  He never needs to go out in middle of the night, and his persistence, usually reserved for thunderstorms, made me a bit concerned.  I got up and let him out.  He seemed happy to go out, so I thought that may have been it.  While I was standing at the door I heard a chirp: The battery in a smoke detector was low.

I let the dog back in and went back to bed.  Chirp.  Leo jumped back up, trembling harder than ever, apparently trying to warn us of a non-existent fire so we could officially change his name to "Shithead."  He wouldn't quit, and I became fixated on the chirp and couldn't fall back to sleep.  Finally around 3:30am I got up again to replace the battery.  After standing under each smoke detector in the house for several minutes apiece to figure out which one it was, I found the culprit in the guest bedroom.  I made it back to bed around 4am.

So after that prelude, here's what I have to say about The Jerk: This is Steve Martin's signature performance.  The rags-to-riches-to-rags story probably couldn't get a greenlight today for all the racial humor (NOTE: I said racial, which is of or pertaining to race, and not racist, which is derogatory actions based on race, but that doesn't matter these days...if you acknowledge race in any way, shape, or form someone is going to have an uproar about it).  But still, there's something about the way he says, "I was born a poor black child" that's hilarious.

The movie is comedy gold, but so much more.  There's romance...
Patty: I got your name tattooed on my ass.
Navin: Oh, there it is under the Js...

There's Drama...
Navin: Well I'm gonna to go then! And I don't need any of this. I don't need this stuff, and I don't need *you*. I don't need anything. Except this...And that's the only thing I need is *this*. I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray... And this paddle game. - The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need... And this remote control. - The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need... And these matches...

And let's not forget Action and Suspense...
Mr. Hartunean: Navin, those aren't defective cans.  There's a defective person up there.
Navin: He hates these cans. Stay away from the cans!

And Musical Interludes...
Navin: I'm picking out a Thermos for you. Not an ordinary Thermos for you. But the extra best Thermos that you can buy, with vinyl and stripes and a cup built right in.

And, of course, a shithead dog.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Iron Man

Iron Man is a strong contender to make my all-time top 10 movie list, if I were ever motivated enough to put such a list together.  This movie rocks on all levels: acting, effects, story, humor, suspense, creepy evil guy...It's rare that a movie in general can pull off such a fine *amalgamation, let alone a movie in the superhero genre, which is noteworthy for its lack of story and uninspired acting (NOTE: I know there are some great superhero movies and performances, like Jack Nicholson / Heath Ledger playing the joker, and all of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies...I'm referring more to the likes of The Green Lantern, X-Men: Last Stand, Fantastic Four, the various incarnations of the Hulk, etc.).

Robert Downey Jr. may have been born to play Tony Stark.  He embodies every aspect of the character, from the brilliance down to the alcoholism.  And Jeff Bridges (a.k.a. "The Dude") need only show up to steal a scene.

I wasn't impressed with the sequel, but all of my geek cylinders are fired up in anticipation of Iron Man teaming up with The Avengers next month.  Word on the street is The Avengers will be another triumph of good over evil.  It may even have a decent Hulk.  

* I am totally impressed with myself for using such a big word like amalgamation.  I did have to look it up to make sure I was using it properly, though.


Monday, April 9, 2012

A-Z Challenge: The Hangover

First off, I think it's cool that on Saturday night I was flipping through the channel guide and caught the last half-hour of The Abyss, starting right before Bud puts on the liquid oxygen suit.  I let the kids watch the end of the movie, then we put them to bed.  I cam back downstairs and flipped channels again and came across The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, so I watched that with my wife until bedtime.  When I woke up and turned the TV on, Caddyshack was playing, I didn't even have to change the channel.  So clearly someone at my cable company has been reading these posts, which is way cool.

On to The Hangover.  This is one of the few adult movies I've seen in the theater in the past few years.  And when I say adult movies I mean R-rated movies, not adult movies, which I am not opposed to, but I would never go to see one in a theater. 

When I first saw The Hangover I started laughing within the first five minutes and didn't stop until I was in my car and a couple miles away from the theater.  Very few movies are that hands-down hilarious from beginning to end.  Zach Galuf..Gafink...the fat guy with the beard stole the show, but the rest of the cast were perfect in their respective roles, including Mike Tyson.

I've seen this movie several times, and while it's still funny, the first viewing where I did not know what was going to happen is still the best.  It's a great example of the benefit of staying spoiler-free, and letting the surprises and twists hit you full force.  There is no part of this movie that is not excellent. Especially the singer at the wedding and the photo montage at the end.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

A-Z Challenge: The Godfather

Please tell me you could see this one coming.  G-movies, Godfather...It's almost too obvious (NOTE: I would say it's cliche but calling things cliche is so cliche).

The Godfather is not only the best mob movie ever made, it's one of the best movies ever made.  I went through my childhood having seen bits and pieces of it.. I remember being ten or eleven and seeing some scenes from the beginning, including the infamous horse head scene.  If you don't know what I'm talking about you are not worthy of an explanation. 

I think I was in my late twenties by the time I finally sat down and watched it from beginning to end.  So many great lines came from The Godfather.  "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse," being up at the top of the list, but followed closely by, "It's a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes."

Honor, family, greed, fear, many things at play in one of the most classic crime dramas ever to play on the silver screen.  Not to mention the incredible acting by Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, and James Caan.  Yes, The Godfather is an American classic.



Friday, April 6, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Forty Year-Old Virgin

I'm cheating a bit on the title by spelling out Forty (it's officially 40 in the movie title), but quite honestly I don't care.  The 40-Year-Old Virgin is hands-down one of the best comedies ever made.  Not only is it laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end, it has heart.

It's not just that Steve Carrell plays Andy perfectly, or that Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan, Jayne Lynch, and the rest of the supporting cast are able to earn honest laughs, too...What makes this movie work is that they all play it natural and actually make the characters feel real, not like the overblown caricatures they are.

I am tempted right now to go pop this DVD in, watch the movie twice, and then finish writing this.  Unfortunately I don't have time to do that.  I'll have to settle for reminiscing about my three favorite moments from the film:

- The car ride with Leslie Mann (the hottie from the bachelorette party).  Her epic drunken rant, from wishing for her period and French toast to the surprise collision ("That fucker came out of nowhere!") actually gets funnier each time I see it.

- When Andy tells Cal (Seth Rogan) that his girlfriend is actually a grandmother, Cal lets out a string of one-liners about grandma sex, including "Fuck her and have her send you a check for twelve dollars on your birthday."  Normally sex with a grandma jokes would not be very funny, but in context they are freaking hysterical.

- When Any's boss (Jayne Lynch) finds out he's a virgin and offers a discreet relationship that "will haunt your dreams."  Specifically, her tale of losing her virginity to their gardener when she was a teen, up to and including her Guatemalan love song (NOTE: I think it was Guatemalan.  I told you I don't have time to watch the movie right now, so I can't be sure).  The ultimate play-it-straight moment is when she sings.  She totally sells that scene.

My next favorite part is the entire rest of the movie.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Evil Dead 2

I love horror movies.  Maybe it stems from my love of  horror novels, Stephen King has been a long-time favorite author.  There are always signature works that stand out in a genre, like The Shining or The Stand.  For me, Evil Dead 2 is an all-time favorite for horror movies.

I first saw this movie in college.  I was in a dorm that had suites shared by eight guys (or girls).  We had four bedrooms, a bathroom with a couple showers and several stalls, and a lounge area with a couch and chairs.  The guys from a suite one floor down invited us over for movie night.  They had appropriated a couple extra couches (we did not ask questions, but let's just say it was always wise to keep your suite doors closed) and had set them up in their lounge in rows, theater style. 

"It's all action," Chris told me when I asked what we would be watching.  He wouldn't say anything else.  We settled in and prepared for the movie.  Chris was right, it is non-stop action, and highly entertaining.  It being college, we were all on a lot more than fresh air at the time, and I'm sure the atmosphere amped the movie up a notch or two, but seriously, this is campy, gorey, scary fun that is so over-the-top you just have to go with it.

The movie is kind of a sequel, but also kind of a re-make of The Evil Dead, a story about a group of friends who go to a cabin in the woods and find a book in the basement...a book that summons the dead.  To go into further plot details would do no justice, for this movie is purely a visual spectacle, with such campy, goofy horror you can't help but laugh.  My favorite scene is when Ash's (Bruce Campbell's) hand becomes possessed and starts attacking him.  There is only one thing he can do: Cut it off with a chainsaw.  Later, he attaches the chainsaw to his arm as a prosthetic.

I also loved how the cabin, which looks to be a small, single-room structure from the outside, has numerous rooms and labyrinthine corridors inside, leading to some wonderfully confusing chase scenes.  And then there's the reanimated decapitated girlfriend, who does a macabre sexy dance for her boyfriend and then tries to kill him. 

Like I said, pure fun.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Death at a Funeral

There are two versions of the movie Death at a Funeral.  One was directed by Frank Oz (a.k.a Fozzy Bear, Miss Piggy, Yoda, etc.) in 2007, and the other is a 2010 remake of that film starring Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, and Tracy Morgan.  I haven't seen the original.

When a friend suggested we watch the 2010 version I was ambivalent, which is a big impressive word that really just means "meh."  I like Chris Rock's stand up, he's witty and consistently hilarious on stage, but that doesn't mean the movie will be just as funny.  While an improv master like Robin Williams can ad-lib and add his own humor to the script, any comic is still leaning on the rest of the cast and the actual screenplay to pull the movie together.  And Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan are funny, but they need the right setting for their humor to shine.  This movie has the right setting.

I was laughing out loud in the first five minutes, when the funeral home delivers the wrong casket (complete with thew wrong body) for a home viewing.  "This hardly ever happens," the young funeral director explains to the distraught children of the deceased.  "This is not Burger King, you can't just mess up my order!"

And then there's the scene-stealing James Marsden, fiance to one of the mourning family members, who accidentally ingests a powerful hallucinogen on the way to the funeral and ends up naked on the roof.  And then it gets weird...

A midget shows up at the funeral, eager to speak to the deceased's children.  Why he wants to talk to them and what happens as a result of the conversation is definite spoiler material, so I'm not going into detail, but it's damn funny.

There are few movies that have made me laugh out loud so hard and so consistently from the beginning to the end of the film...The Hangover, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Airplane, Arthur (the original), Animal House, Monty Python and the [Anything]...The 2010 version of Death at a Funeral holds rank for me as one of the all-time comedy greats.  If you haven't seen this yet, rent it ASAP.  You will laugh.  You may be disgusted with yourself at some of the things you are laughing at, but believe me, laugh you will...


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Caddyshack

When I was 11 years old, we got a Betamax.  Now I realize younger readers may not have a clue as to what a Betamax was, so let me explain: The Betamax was a videotape machine, similar to VHS (Please tell me you remember those.  I do not want to be that old yet.), but Beta had much better quality and therefore less popularity.  (NOTE: Admitting that you do know what a Betamax was will do nothing but reveal that you are old, resist the temptation.  But do you remember how we used to have to rewind the tapes?  Ahh, the old days of home video...)

But this post is not about the Betamax, which is a B-word.  It's about the first movie we watched on our Betamax: Caddyshack.

I am quite grateful my parents let me watch an R-Rated movie when I was that young.  There were a couple brief flashes of nudity, but to my knowledge boobies have never hurt anyone, so that's not really an issue.  And my 5th-grade innocence aside, I had heard all the major swear words, so there was nothing new there.  I had no clue what drugs were, so the scenes of pot smoking went right over my head.

What I did understand was that:

- Rodney Dangerfield has the coolest golf bag ever made
- Ted Knight getting hit in the Johnson by a golf ball is hilarious ("I guess I should have yelled 'two!'")
- A candy bar in a swimming pool really does look like doody (Did you ever notice how it was caddy day at the pool, but only from 1pm-1:15pm?)
- Bill Murray and gopher puppets are all that is needed for an 11-year-old boy to laugh and enjoy an adult comedy

A few years later I even worked as a caddy one summer, when I was thirteen (between 7th and 8th grade).  It was a right of passage, as both of my older brothers caddied at Rosemont Country Club through high school.  I would have kept at it, except we moved from Akron to Dallas, and the commute was hell.  I did learn how awesome it was to have a sweaty wad of cash at the end of a shift, and how it was even more awesome to walk past the mall on my way home and spend all the money before it ever saw the inside of my piggy bank.  Still, I had managed to save up close to a hundred bucks, mostly one-dollar bills, which made an impressive pile on my bed.

(NOTE: I had originally planned to make this post about the third movie I watched on the Betamax, Conan the Barbarian, which is actually quite good and worth mentioning.  The director kept the dialogue low in the screenplay, opting to use music to emphasize the visual element, and the film does have an amazing soundtrack.  Makes me want to watch that one again.  The second movie I saw on the Betamax was Star Wars, which was my vote for the first movie to watch but I was over-ruled by everyone else in the family.  But it's not S-day yet, so the rest of that story will have to wait...)

Monday, April 2, 2012

A-Z Challenge: Batman Begins

Moving on in the A-Z Challenge, the second letter of the alphabet opens the door to one of this summer's most anticipated movies.  Batman Begins kicked off a trilogy, and there would be no Dark Knight without it, and even though the awesomeness that was Heath Ledger's Joker will not be there for round three, I trust the storytelling and film making instincts of Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, who also brought us Inception, Insomnia, and Memento*.

Batman Begins took Batman out of the comic books and gave him a place in the real world.  Like The Abyss, it took a subject that would typically be limited to geeks like me and opened it up to a larger audience by grounding it in reality.  Gone was the camp of the '60s TV show (and, thankfully, the tights).  I am a fan of Tim Burton's Batman (or more specifically, Jack Nicholson's Joker, but I digress...I'm saving Jack for the letter "O") but the world Nolan built in Batman Begins was right on every level.

*Memento was narrowly beaten for the "M" slot, and since I can't talk about it there, I'm taking advantage of the Nolan tie-in for an addendum to this post.  Memento is a phenomenal movie, but may not be for everyone due to the way the story unfolds: Backwards.  A movie about a man with short-term memory loss who's out for revenge, the movie opens with the last scene of the story and then goes back to the beginning, scene by scene.  The effect is stunning, but giving the viewer a sense of confusion that helps identify with the main character because as his memory fades after a few minutes, he is also coming into each scene not knowing what happened right before it; however, as the movie progresses, we the audience know where everything ended up, and watching the motivations and characters shift as their backstories come to light builds suspense and provides a set-up for a great twist at the,, just check it it and see for yourself.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A-Z Challenge: The Abyss

Today starts the A-Z blogging challenge.  My theme: Movies I love.  There will be an eclectic mix of films...comedy, horror, sci-fi, and drama (NOTE: wait, let me double-check the list...Yeah, there's one or two I could label drama, and even one true romance).

So starting the challenge at A, I'm going with an awesome movie by James Cameron, Oscar-nominated and groundbreaking for technology at the time of its release: The Abyss.  I could also pick Avatar, but The Abyss came first so it has dibs.

The Abyss is a real genre-busting film.  It has strong dramatic elements, but at it's heart it's great science fiction.  But unlike a lot of sci-fi that takes place far in the future and/or in space, the Abyss is set in the modern world, which makes it more accessible to non-geeks.

Two parts of The Abyss stand out to me.  First is the scene where Bud and Lindsay are trapped in a room of a research station at the bottom of the ocean, and the room is quickly flooding.  They have only one dive suit with enough oxygen for one person to make the long swim to the main lab.  The solution: Lindsay will drown herself and Bud, being the stronger swimmer, will tow her back.  The cold water should help preserve her so they can resuscitate her in the lab.  This is an intense scene, and the way the relationship between Bud and his estranged wife leads up to this pivotal moment earns high marks for drama.

The second stand-out moment is when Bud suits up to dive to the bottom of the deep-sea trench (e.g., The Abyss) to disarm a nuclear warhead.  This is no ordinary dive suit: It's filled with breathable liquid.  In order to survive the immense pressure, the dive suit cannot be filled with air.  A super-oxygenated liquid is pumped into the suit, and Bud breathes this ("We all breathed liquid for nine months, your body will remember...").  The best science fiction is built on fact, and this liquid does exist, although it's not quite usable to the extent depicted in the film.  I guess that's why James Cameron took a sub to the bottom of the Marianas Trench last week.

If you've never seen The Abyss, check it out.  It's long, but it's worth it.