Monday, January 31, 2011


Evilspeak is the reason Saturday afternoons exist. It's a movie from 1981 starring a young Clint Howard as Stanley Coopersmith, an outcast military cadet, who learns how to summon Satan with the help of a magic book and a primitive computer. It steals pretty liberally (and hilariously) from Carrie and The Omen, but has a weird "evils of technology" vibe thrown in.

The movie is pretty ridiculous and I'm glad I watched it. It's one of those "only from the 80's" movies. I followed a link to the trailer, and found the full movie on Youtube. I was bored and my wife wasn't home, so I watched it.

A couple of my favorite things in the movie:

The name the bullies use to mock Stanley Coopersmith is "Cooperdick". That's not very creative, even by bully standards. If your victim has the sound "OOP" in his name, your work is already done.

Whenever the possessed computer uses its powers, a pentagram appears on the monitor, with the word "ESTEBAN" (the owner of the ancient magic book) emblazoned across it in a businesslike font. It looks like an evil corporate logo.

The third act is pretty funny too. Once Cooperdick is pushed to the edge and begins using Esteban to take out all his enemies it goes pretty crazy. A knockoff of The Omen score blasts in the background as he floats around, cutting off heads and sending evil hellhogs after them.

In conclusion, if you want to watch a weird bad 80's movie on Youtube, Evilspeak is the movie for you.

Just like Starcrash, no grade for this one. I didn't watch it for film-appreciation purposes.

The Kids Are All Right

I've been stuck on this blog entry all weekend. I enjoyed The Kids Are All Right, but I don't have too much to say about it. Sometimes I come across movies like that. I liked the story, I liked the characters and performances.

If you didn't know, The Kids Are All Right is about two teenagers who have been raised by their lesbian moms, who decide to contact their biological father, an anonymous sperm donor. His sudden appearance in their lives brings craziness and throws everything up in the air.

Everyone is good. One of the things I was most impressed with was how believable they all felt as a family. There are early, smaller moments, before things get all complicated that really capture what living with your family and seeing them every day of your life feels like. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore really sell themselves as a believable couple. Their chemistry feels realer than most straight movie couples and waaaaaay realer than most straight actors playing gay couples.

I like Mark Ruffalo, too, even though he causes a lot of trouble in it, and doesn't exactly redeem himself at the end.

So, I'm cutting it short right here. All in all, it was a pretty good movie, so I'll give it a B.

Monday, January 24, 2011


I had planned on watching a whole bunch of movies on a train ride this weekend. I only managed to watch one, and that movie was the camp classic Starcrash. How do I best describe Starcrash? Let's see... Remember the Simpsons joke where Mr. Burns said "Get me Steven Spielberg," and Smithers says "he's not available, sir," and Mr. Burns says, "then get me his non-union, Mexican equivalent!"? Starcrash is Star Wars made by George Lucas' non-union, Italian equivalent, Georgino Lucasetti, who, incidentally, has never seen Star Wars.

Starcrash follows the adventures of scantily-clad space outlaw Stella Starr, on a planet hopping journey along with a weird psychic guy with a jew-fro, a robot with a strangely out-of-place accent, and a young David Hasselhoff. If that doesn't pique your interest, then this movie is not for you.

It's kind of a hard movie for me to judge. I watched it alone, and movies like this are always so much better with friends. As a so-bad-it's-good movie, it has it's moments, but overall, I think it's just OK. The acting is laughable, as are the special effects. Stella Starr's performance is like if a porn star was acting in a kids' TV show. The robot's voice is baffling, and he has some hilarious lines. The jew-fro guy might have been the funniest.

Starcrash would work as a great first movie in a double bill with Barbarella. You would definitely want to save Barbarella for last, though, because that movie is just divine. Barbarella manages to be hilarious and subversive both on purpose and unintentionally, it manages to create a unique and fun space-fantasy universe, and it does so in that wonderful, sexy, mid-60's mod style. Starcrash, on the other hand, oozes that 70's feeling, where everything and everyone looks covered in a coat of oil. Not nearly so appealing. Stella Starr is no Jane Fonda.

Both movies do have one thing in common, something that a lot of European B-movies share: Very good music.

Also, I'm not one hundred percent sure, but I think this movie might have fans in the industry. I recognized bits that I thought might have been referenced in Roman Coppola's CQ and Luc Besson's The Fifth Element.

So I guess my verdict on Starcrash is still undecided. I enjoyed watching it, but I think I might have liked it more with some friends present. Still, it's worthwhile if you like cult movies, bad movies, and camp classics. I will probably watch it again.

No grade for this one. I don't think I can objectively grade a movie I'm watching for all the wrong reasons.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Everybody probably knows I'm a nut for John C. Reilly comedies. The guy just cracks me up, especially when he's playing straight-up dumb characters. Jay and Mark Duplass' film Cyrus is a comedy starring John C. Reilly, but he's really the straight man in this one. Still, he's very funny and likable in it.

The movie is about John, a lonely man who meets Molly. They quickly spark a relationship, but John just as quickly figures out she's keeping something from him. One night he follows her home and discovers her 21-year-old son, Cyrus. Cyrus is a pretty messed up kid, and he immediately begins scheming to keep his mom and John away from each other.

What follows is a fierce battle of wills between John and Cyrus for the love and attention of Molly.

Cyrus is, of course, played by Jonah Hill, who is really fun to watch in this movie. He has honed his creepy, stalkery act from Forgetting Sarah Marshall to perfection. He also brings a great deal of depth to the character, and you can at least sympathize with him by the end of the movie. As I said, he's a pretty messed up kid.

Before I go, I better mention Marissa Tomei. She's good too, as the center of this bizarre love triangle (TM New Order). She's a little nutty as well, but you can still understand what John sees in her.

Cyrus was a fun little indie-ish comedy, and the cast shines in it. B+

Friday, January 7, 2011

How to Train Your Dragon

I skipped How to Train Your Dragon in the theaters this summer, because hey, I skipped a ton of movies this year. I just wasn't feeling the previews, and I suffer from animation fatigue in the summer. Way too many sub-par animated movies come out, making it hard to tell what to bother with and what to skip. But then reviews and word of mouth started saying how good it was, and then I kind of regretted skipping it. Well, I've finally righted my error. This is a really good movie!

The story itself is a pretty common one in cartoons these days: an outcast finding his place and gaining acceptance among his peers by doing something that they at first disapprove of, but then see the value of. But it's a nice little formula, and well-told. The dragons are cool and there are a bunch of different breeds with different abilities. That's always fun when they do that. I liked the characters. Jay Baruchel was a good choice for the gawky teenaged viking.

What I really liked is the ending, a great climactic battle that results in real consequences for our heroes. You don't see that in many kids movies.

Dreamworks Animation can make some good stuff when they're not busy churning out the star-driven movies that are loaded with instantly dated pop culture references (you know what movies I'm talking about). I put How to Train Your Dragon just below Kung Fu Panda in my rankings. That's a tough one to top, though.

How to Train Your Dragon: A-

How am I doing? Let me know!

Fantasia 2000

Well, it had to happen. A movie I didn't probably like. I'm glad this happened sooner rather than later. I know I give a lot of positive marks, so I guess this one shows I'm capable of disliking something.

Well, I didn't hate Fantasia 2000. It's kind of a non-entity, really.

It wasn't a bad idea. As they say in the weird celebrity introductions, Fantasia was originally intended to be an ongoing affair, with new segments being phased in and out as years progressed. I wish they had done that, but the original was not as well received as was hoped at the time. Striking while the iron is 60 years cold was probably not the best move.

The first thing that stood out to me is that Fantasia 2000 uses a fair share of computer assistance. Of course it does, that's just the way these things are done now. There's some nice imagery in it, but it lacks the care and beauty of hand drawn/painted pictures. Sometimes it feels labored, like the animators listened to the songs a few seconds at a time and went "ok, what happens here?", "how about here?" and so on.

Then, towards the end, they really show us the contrast between the perfection of the original and the flatness of the new by reprising The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

Anyway, there's some pretty stuff, and I'm sure the movie plays fine if you just want to put something on in the background. Disney wisely packages this as a second disc with the original. I honestly don't think it would sell on it's own. I suppose it works fine as a curiosity or a special feature.

Fantasia 2000: C-

Monday, January 3, 2011


I've recently realized that it's very hard for me to remember which classic Disney movies I've seen all the way through, and which ones I've only seen sequences from on the Disney Channel and read the storybooks for in pre-school. I can't say for sure, but I don't believe I've ever seen Sleeping Beauty, for example, but I remember things from it.

With this in mind, I am now watching Fantasia, and I know for a fact that I've never seen all of this. They only ever showed choice bits of it on the Disney Channel. The Sorcerer's Apprentice, of course. As a kid, I feel like they tried to fool you into thinking there was a whole Mickey Mouse movie where he's a wizard, only to find out it's a bunch of orchestras and faeries and stuff, with a brief Mickey Mouse interlude. And I certainly wouldn't have appreciated the classical music at that point. I doubt Fantasia would have held my attention at all back then.

Now that I've grown up, I'm obviously no longer an easily distracted, non-art-appreciating little shit. Fantasia is widely considered Disney's masterpiece. I'm inclined to agree. It's a perfect marriage of image and sound, and to this day, is the pinnacle of what can be achieved by animation. I doubt I need to go into any details. We all know about Mickey the wizard, the little racist Chinese mushrooms, the awesome dinosaurs, the ballerina hippos, etc. Even if we haven't seen the whole movie put together, I'm sure we've all seen much of it in parts. I never even knew about the interstitial segments where the guy introduces the pieces and gives us a little background.

Anyway, I could surely go into detail about each wonderful segment, but I like to keep these short, so I'll wrap it up with these words: Soooooooooooo good!

Fantasia: Come on, man. A+

The Blu Ray was packaged with Fantasia 2000 as well, so expect a surely less enthusiastic review for that soon. Also packaged as a special feature is Destino, an aborted short film collaboration by Walt Disney and Salvador Dali, recently completed. It's beautiful and worth checking out.

Leave a comment if you feel so inclined.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The King's Speech

This afternoon, we went and saw The King's Speech, the new film directed by Tom Hooper, about King George VI's struggle overcoming a speech impediment. I don't know if that sounds very interesting the way I put it, but it really was.

Colin Firth's King George was, to me, the most sympathetic and likable character I've seen in a movie all year. I'm not very good at talking around people myself. I mean, I'm not King George bad, or anything, but I totally could relate.

Colin Firth is going to get a lot of attention for his performance. So much so, that Geoffrey Rush might get a little less than he deserves as the king's unorthodox speech therapist. It's a really fun role to watch, and Rush counters and complements Firth in all the right ways.

The King's Speech is totally a "feel good" movie. The ending is very emotionally satisfying, but in a natural way, not in a forced, give-me-an-Oscar way. Of course he overcomes the obstacle, that's what the movie is all about; but Tom Hooper wisely doesn't let the audience forget that a much greater obstacle is ahead, with the looming threat of a second World War.

Enough about the movie, let me talk about another thing: We got to the theater five minutes before showtime, and came into a packed theater. We got stuck in the front. This makes for a very unpleasant experience. How do people sit in the front? Some people actually prefer it. Movie theaters shouldn't even have rows that close.

Luckily, the neck-and-eye-torture I suffered was more than made up for by one of the more lovely movies of 2010. I'm happy with it.

The King's Speech: A

Front rows: F-----

Neck pain: ummm, let's give that a C. For Crick.

Branded to Kill

Happy New Year, everyone!

Not long after midnight, I decided to watch my first movie 0f 2011. That movie was Branded to Kill, a surreal Japanese crime thriller from 1967, directed by Seijun Suzuki. And let me tell you, this movie is inSANE.

It's about a high-ranking Yakuza hitman (number 3, in fact), who gets a target on his head after botching a hit (a symbolic butterfly lands on his gun and throws off his shot). A fairly standard formula, to say the least, but the way this movie unfolds is far from standard. The hitman, for example, needs the smell of boiling rice to attain sexual arousal. He is hired by and becomes obsessed with a suicidal girl who likes to kill birds with poison needles. I think I've already said enough. I don't want to ruin anymore for you.

The budget is extremely low, and it shows, but Suzuki makes up for it with lots of style, and lots of hallucinatory weirdness. The way he shot his action sequences was ahead of his time.

According to the wikipedia entry on this movie, the director, Seijun Suzuki, turned a standard formula script into such a baffling piece of absurdist craziness that it got him blacklisted from the movie industry for a decade. I can see why. Only much later was it recognized as a masterpiece, and an influence on such directors as John Woo, Jim Jarmusch, and Quentin Tarantino. You can definitely pinpoint aspects of all those guys in the movie, but I would say it is actually most reminiscent of Jarmusch. Like I said, this is one weeeeeird movie.

So, what's the verdict? Did I probably like it? I probably did.


For those who would like to check it out, Branded to Kill is available as a Criterion Collection DVD, but can be viewed much more affordably on Netflix's Watch Instantly service.

Feel free to leave comments, let me know what you think!