Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Trotsky

So the reincarnation of Soviet pioneer and leader Leon Trotsky goes to school in Canada. That's is the basic premise of The Trotsky, and it's actually quite a bit better than that sounds.

Let me elaborate. We first meet Leon Bronstein, brilliantly played by Jay Baruchel, as he leads a hunger strike at his fathers garment factory in Quebec. He's doing this because he believes that he is the reincarnated soul of Leon Trotsky and is destined to replay the moments of Totsky's life. I mean every event, from his many exilings, to meeting his his own Lenin, his betrayal by Lenin, and the numerous attempts on his life and the one successful one. This includes creepily stalking an older law student and eventually winning her heart, staging a students revolt in a public high school in order to unionize the students, and is exiled from attending school in Quebec. Sounds kinda of dumb, doesn't it? But it's not!

There is something about the script and Baruchel's performance that creates this very light, amusing atmosphere even during the more awkward moments of the film. Because it's really, really difficult to make a stalker both charming and end up getting the girl. 

Rating: B+

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monty Python: Almost the Truth

I'm not normally a fan of documentaries as I feel that many times they are pushing a particular viewpoint or opinion, but every once in a while you get that special documentary that isn't full of itself and it's own agenda. 2003's Fog of War is a perfect example, where former  US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara sits down and talks for an hour and a half. That is the sort of experience you get with Monty Python: Almost the Truth, six hour long episodes tracing the forty years that Monty Python has been around in interviews with the surviving cast members.

This six episode documentary uses interviews with the surviving members and archival footage of interviews from Graham Chapman painting a more thorough portrait of the Python's creative process and some of the struggles that happened behind the scenes which are actually very interesting. And the way that the documentary is split up is also very well done where each episode is focused on one part of the history behind the group, e.g. episode 2 is the only episode about the BBC television show while episode 3 focuses on their first real feature Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

and now.
The best thing about this is probably the fact that most of the history between the participants is so old that any animosity that may have existed over this or that issue has turned into a cool, but polite appraisal of the issue. There are also segments where comedians (Steve Coogan, Russel Brand, and Stephen Merchant to name a few) who grew up on Monty Python comment on the influence that the show had on them which gives the subject of the Python's influence some real context. A thoroughly fascinating look at such an influential group of individuals.

Rating: A

P.S. My favorite sketch? The funniest joke in the world from the first episode of Flying Circus.

Monday, September 19, 2011


So there is a lot of conflicting concepts and ideas going on with how this movie is both advertised as well as some of the core concepts of the movie. Most of the information I had gotten about Vidocq (for some reason, most US releases I have seen around have renamed it Dark Portals... I've seen it and still don't understand that) beforehand had been that it's a very good Steampunk movie, something I haven't really seen done well to date. Then I find out that Eugène François Vidocq was a real person and probable inspiration for the character of Sherlock Holmes. So I've already got a little bit of cognitive dissonance going into this movie and I haven't even seen frame one yet.

So the opening of this movie gives us Gérard Depardieu as the titular character stalking someone through a dark, crowded, fiery place leading to a quick fight with a Mirror Masked individual which ends with Vidocq's apparent death. End of movie I guess. But no, a young man claiming to be Vidocq's biographer arrives and begins investigating Vidocq's murder to avenge him and so we get to watch as the intrepid reporter tracks Vidocq's movements, followed by flashbacks to Vidocq's movements tracking down the nebulous and sinister Alchemist. And in a shocking twist that no one saw coming, at least you wouldn't have seen it coming if you weren't paying any attention whatsoever, Vidocq did not die in the fire hole he fell into at the beginning of the film and our intrepid reporter is, in fact, our nefarious villain. Oooooh. Big mirror fight and the villain is stabbed with a big glass shard, thrown out a window to fall some ridiculous height into the river below to die... or does he?

So this isn't quite as bad as it sounds. Sure the overall structure of the story is pretty standard and there's no real surprise to the ending whatsoever, but there are some interesting character tweaks and villainous foibles which are kind of interesting and stupid at the same time. Like the villains mask. Stylewise it's an absolute win, but then they go and make it a magic mirror mask that sucks people's souls in when they die and it gets a little ridiculous. And Gérard Depardieu. The character of Vidocq is actually kind of interesting and I don't think I've seen a grumpy, bitter Depardieu before and I think if they had made this more of a Depardieu centric movie it might have possibly been better for it. But then we see them try and film an action sequence with an easily 300+ lb. actor and his not so robust fight double and it's just a little silly.

But the one thing that annoyed me the most was the director Pitof. Pitof served as the visual effects supervisor for most of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's best films (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children) and that comes through loud and clear with the way that this movie looks and feels. It viscerally dirty but at the same time you get these fantastic and otherworldly panorama shots and the two blend from one scene to the next so seamlessly that it's like your visual cortex is relaxing on ocean waves. And then we see the camera work and direction for any scene that requires tension or even a little bit of action and you are subjected to hyper-close-ups that are disorienting and impossible to follow sucking any drama that those scenes were supposed to instill. Overall, it's interesting but I'd love to see another director tackle the character.

Rating: C-

Friday, September 16, 2011

BMX Bandits

BMX's can go ANYWHERE!
I don't think I'm alone when I get intrigued over early works from stars before they really hit it big, no matter how bad they look. Of note, Arnold Schwarzenegger in Hercules in New York, George Clooney in Return to Horror High, and our entry for today, Nicole Kidman in BMX Bandits. BMX Bandits is not much of a movie: 50 minutes of two bumbling crooks chasing around three BMX aficionados sandwich by 20 minute segments of flimsy plot. The most unbelievable part of this is the idea that three teens could ride a bike for fifty minutes in a chase scenario with no gear ratio is absolutely bonkers.

This is the simple story of a young girl in love with BMX and her attempts to get said BMX by selling walkie-talkies that she and her friends found in the harbor. Of course, those walkies belonged to a violent and well organized group of bank robbers who need them to steal a large payroll van. And the chase is on... for literally the next 50 minutes of screen time, during which time the criminals who were at first well organized and effective, become bumbling, cartoonish characters who can't even run down a couple of kids on BMX bikes. After escaping the crooks though, the brave BMX Bandits (y'see they got shirts to commemorate their outlaw bicycling ways) lure the crooks into a trap to get the reward for their capture so they can open up a BMX track for the local kids who all love BMX.

Whose idea was it to
coordinate our outfits?
So, this isn't actually that bad a movie as long as you ignore most of the acting, anything related to BMX, and the Australians. But there is one moment, when they are being chased through the graveyard where you can see the potential in Nicole Kidman. It's just a fleeting glimpse of the actress she will become, but it's there. Doesn't make the movie worth watching, but it is fascinating to see the early promise of talent.

Rating: D

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Lost Skeleton Returns Again

Larry Blamire brings us back to the 1960's in this sequel to The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, a movie so good you should go out and watch it right now. Its okay, I'll wait. Fort those waiting, here's a picture of a skeleton choking a man.

You've failed me for the last time!

You're back? Good. What did you think? I know, absolutely hysterical. For those of you who don't like fun, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a send-up of those old B-movies from the 1950's and 60's filled with guys in rubber monster suits, anatomy skeletons on visible wires, aliens flying in on pie-tin flying saucers, and acting so bad that it's absolutely ridiculous. The first time I watched that movie, I laughed so hard and long that I felt like I had done a full week's worth of abdominal exercises in two hours. So that's what The Lost Skeleton Returns Again had to live up to, and I think it fell just short of that mark.

It's not that the movie is bad... well, actually, it is that bad but it's sort of the point that it's so bad that it's funny. It's a whole meta thing going on. So I guess it's not bad enough? It's too bad? This is confusing. Whatever, it's worth taking a look at.

Rating: B

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Spider-man/Spider-man and his Amazing Friends

Ever since Disney bought Marvel, I've had the chance to catch a lot of the old Spider-man cartoons I used to watch back in the eighties on Disney's cable channel, and as  unlike everything else I used to love as a child, these are actually better than I remembered. Both shows were released in 1981 and saw heavy rotation and recycling through that decade, pervading my ever sponge-like brain making me a Marvel person rather than a DC guy (I swear, I just argued with my wife over which mythos was better today). So with 50 episodes between them, I have spent quite a bit of time watching all of the episodes over again... and again... and what do you know, yet again. So here's why these are so much better than even I realized. While not truly canonical to the original comic series, they are true to the spirit of Spider-man capturing his essence that so many other interpretations miss, and at least in the case of the Spider-man series, actually adds some depth to the comic series.

So I really got into comics around 1990 and I grew very familiar with the canon of Spider-man, be he Amazing, Spectacular, or just regular old Spider-man and the one defining characteristic besides his powers is that he is a sarcastic wise-ass. He's always cracked wise while in costume; not because he's arrogant, but because he's absolutely terrified (I believe it was Bendis who made that clear in his Ultimate Spider-man run). He's a teenager fighting people who are trying to kill him, defending people who despise him. So he cracks wise as distraction for himself and his enemies and it's an idiosyncratic quirk that makes him lovable. It's what was missing from Sam Raimi's Spider-man run (which was good except for the third one), but it's what we get in spades twenty years earlier. I don't think the show goes more than 2 minutes without Spider-man cracking a joke or pun, and sure they're corny but they've always been corny. It's sort of the point. And with the stand-alone series, the voice actor for Peter Parker/Spider-man sounds like a New Yorker, not some over the top New York accent, just a touch of nebbishiness that's almost impossible to do in the comics but it makes the character feel more present and grounded in reality. It's a guy who sounds like my father does sometimes, and when you hear it, you realize that yes; this is a guy who has lived in Queens his entire life. Why doesn't he always sound like this? It's why I think the stand alone series is just a little bit better than Amazing Friends.

Now that's not to say that Amazing Friends isn't also great. It is. It was good enough that the character of Firestar, who was created just for the show and had not previously appeared in Marvel continuity, was eventually absorbed into continuity and has been active in the comics since 1985 (first appearance Uncanny X-men#193). But it also gave a larger venue to play with a lot of different properties, and not just the villains but you get to see interactions with Namor. Namor, for God's sake, a character that I don't think I ever cared about but he's a lot of fun in the episode Seven Little Superheroes, a nod to both Agatha Christie and the superhero team The Defenders. Its things like that that actually makes me like Amazing Friends more than Spider-man, but I believe that Spider-man is the stronger of the two series. Regardless, I will watch each episode over and over and hopefully, share them with my daughter.

Rating: A-

Monday, September 12, 2011

Royal Deceit

I promise to wear pants if you promise
not to drown in a river, deal?
It's Hamlet! It's Hamlet with Christian Bale, Gabriel Byrne, Helen Mirren, Kate Beckinsale, Brian Cox and many more. I mean it's an amazing cast doing the greatest tragedy ever written, how can this not be amazing? But there's a narrator. Telling me that Amled (Hamlet) was only pretending to have lost his senses and we're spending a lot of time with the new King Fenge, Amled's Uncle/Father. WTF!?! What just happened with Amled's mother? Whose brilliant idea was it to rewrite Shakespeare?

I'm not going to bother recapping because, well, it's Hamlet. If you haven't read and, or seen at least a version of it in the Bard's tongue, then shame on you. That being said, this isn't a complete travesty. It feels more realistic with the large hall and wooden structures as opposed to the more palatial setting you see when Hamlet is performed. And the skepticism of Amled's break with sanity is a nice touch since it makes some sense. But it's Hamlet and I can't be happy unless everyone dies (which they don't), and it's never quite clear if Hamlet is playing crazy or if he has gone around the bend, and where the hell is my Ophelia singing some loopy song before jumping in a god damned river! Sorry, I get a little worked up over Shakespeare some times. Sorry.

Rating: C-