Kent’s Movie Diary: Midnite Confession

DiaryWomaninGreen10/18/13-
I have been super busy with work lately, but I’ve still had a chance to watch a few things in my down time. Yet more Sherlock Holmes was in there with The Woman in Green, a murder mystery which is one of the films I was most familiar with going into watching the set. It reintroduces Moriarty and makes it plain just how much they reused actors in the series as many of the characters are played by people that had previously appeared in differing roles. Moriarty himself was previously a red herring in at least one of the films where Holmes battles the Nazis. You would think that since they had the same people playing Holmes, Watson, Lestrad and even Mrs. Hudson through the series, someone as important as Moriarty would be constant as well, but rather we get a different Napoleon of crime in each outing. I guess it could be considered a metaphor for his slippery nature. Or maybe he’s a Time Lord. Anyway, this is another one of the fairly good outings from the series, though not as moody or atmospheric as some of the earlier films. At this point they were beginning to wind down and I remember some of the later films being a bit more mediocre. But I’ll still soldier on.

DiaryDaimajinI also finished the final Daimajin film, Wrath of Daimajin. It closes the series in grand style, even if it falls on the old chestnut of using children as the protagonists in order to elicit more feels from the audience. As usual, there are warlords and thieves up to no good and they get their just deserts as the ancient god stomps his way to justice. For a series that follows structure so rigidly, it managed to stay surprisingly fresh. Plus I think the visual quality was a step back in the right direction after some squiffy effects work made the second look not quite as good as the first. I absolutely recommend the set for those that enjoy this sort of thing.

 

DiaryDrumsI got another Twilight Time release with Drums Along the Mohawk, a John Ford film from the late 30s that stars Henry Fonda (who would later be in his Grapes of Wrath) as well as Claudette Colbert and a few of his stalwart acting company like Ward Bond. The film looks nothing less than astonishing given its age. Part of that may be due to the fact that, while extremely popular at its release, it hasn’t been regarded as the kind of classic that some of Ford’s other films have and it undoubtedly was handled less. The other part would have to be that it was created using the same kind of technicolor process that went into The Wizard of Oz.

I can’t think of a great Revolutionary War film, which is too bad since it’s a fascinating period of history. (I never officially declared a focus when getting my history degree, but that period is probably the one I came closest to doing so with.) Mohawk may be the closest there is. We see very little of the actual fighting, but we see life among the “frontier” back when the frontier was still in places like New York. The Redcoats strike up deals with many of the local Indians, leading to many of the colonists losing their homes during the war. They’re led by walking cadaver John Carradine, who folks like myself will recognize from his many appearances in Mystery Science Theater 3000, in the role of head Tory. It’s episodic and has moments of melodrama, but damned if it isn’t also funny and entertaining in the style of many of his Western epics that would follow.

DiaryMalena and MeLast weekend I went to Horror on the Boulevard again. It’s an annual triple feature put on by the Boulevard Drive-In of Kansas City. This year the quality average of the films was definitely higher. Sure, last year had the original Dawn of the Dead, which is a bona fide classic. But it also had Demons, which was hilariously awful, and Nightmare on Elm Street 2, which sucks on toast. This year they had some pretty well known films I’d never seen before, but was looking forward to. It opened with Child’s Play and it was also bad, but in a much different way. It was a kind of a hoot. I laughed at the kills and the ridiculousness of the movie, while looking up on my phone that the cop is actually Prince Humperdink. Finally, that data plan is good for more than just a high-cost GPS. Second, we had Night of the Creeps, which I loved. It’s not quite a full-blown horror comedy, but you can tell that they’re being just tongue in cheek enough for it to work. I loved the black and white opening and the salty cop for whom everything is an opportunity to make a surly one-liner. I also enjoyed the frat guys that look like slightly burly versions of John Oates. We watched them from the back of my friend Jared’s beat-up pick-up while drinking Blue Moon pumpkin ale and eating Cheetos, but eventually even the blanket couldn’t keep the October chill at bay, so we took off before the final film.

DiaryDawnofDraculaHowever, I grabbed a copy of Dawn of Dracula, the feature debut of the Midnite Mausoleum crew. I’ve been a fan of the show for some time now and was glad to see Marlena Midnite, who I’ve referred to a few times as the DIY Vampira, host of the show and star of the film. I also got my picture taken with her and had not realized just how tiny she is until I saw it. Concentrated horror host cuteness. The debut of the film had been at the Friday night event (I had to go to the Saturday showing due to work, just one more reason for me to quit) so I wanted to pick it up and see it on my own.

Anyway, the film is exactly what you would expect if you’ve seen the show: cheap, questionably acted, full of bizarre jokes and weirdly charming because of it. Marlena’s Victoria Van Helsing has a wonderful British accent that wouldn’t fool a small child and Robyn Graves plays herself as per usual. The 70s setting is mostly an excuse to make Star Wars references and have a reason for not including cell phones. (And I suppose to be a semi-sequel to the Hammer films of the 50s that they are obviously pastiching.) The camerawork is certainly better than the show, but it still looks like somebody was just standing there pointing without a plan. Oh, and there’s a weird subplot involving a UK punk group’s new single that seems to exist just to make a third-grade style political jab. And it still works better than the stuff in Iron Sky. So you know what? I enjoyed the hell out of it. This is a bunch of friends doing something they obviously enjoy and putting it out there for us, just like the public access show that was their labor of love for over six years. And you’ll never look at strawberries or jelly donuts the same way.

It probably helps that I got a lot of the inside jokes that reference the show since I have watched a lot of it. (And will continue to since I just grabbed some more of their DVDs. I’ll be sitting my friend Jared down to watch their old Halloween special with Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things soon.) While the show is no more, this is a heck of a nice little capper to its existence and at only about 80 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. They’ve got a limited edition version of it out now that comes in an 8mm film can, so if you want one you should probably get it before it’s gone.

Kent’s Movie Diary: Wes Side

Yet another Holmes adventure!9/21/13- Yet another Sherlock Holmes film down. This time The House of Fear, a pretty faithful adaptation of The Adventure of the Orange Pips, one of the more famous of the short stories. I haven’t read the actual story in some time, so when I say faithful, I mean that considering the films were all supposed to take place in the present day of the 1940s, it is surprisingly devoid of “modern” detail. A lot of that is due to the fact that it is mostly a parlor mystery, rarely venturing outside an old mansion in which a group of eccentric bachelors have gathered and are being knocked off one-by-one. It’s one of the more stylish of the films, though they do seem to go overboard on the Dutch angles for a bit. While the opening of the movie is one of the more beaten up, the majority of it looks great.
It’s funny that Basil Rathbone failed in trying to start a Sherlock Holmes TV series in the 50s, because this was essentially a proto-TV series in the same mold as programs would air over the following three decades; stand-alone stories, about an hour long, with a consistent opening and closing. The fact that they made three a year even recalls the recent BBC series with Blunderbuss Chamberpot, I mean, Benedict Cumberbatch, which only has three feature-length episodes a season. And which I can’t wait for next year to see. (Hopefully they’ll find time in their schedules to keep making them every couple of years despite the schedules of everyone involved.)
9/24/13- Time for some Wes.
While I have long considered Rushmore one of my favorite films of all time, I did not see it 8-Rushmoresmallduring its initial theatrical release. Back in 1998 I saw it on video on a tiny television in a cinder-block constructed dorm room (you know, the kind that are like cement cubicles) and wasn’t all that impressed. But when I gave it another chance, I fell in love with the writing, the compositions, the music choices and the performances by nearly everyone involved. It certainly didn’t hurt that Max Fischer was like the movie version of me as a kid. He was my teenage faults and glories writ large. When I watch it, I feel a sudden burst of gusto that indicates I should be making the most of my life and filling it with opportunities.
When I get the chance to view one of my favorite films on the big screen, I usually take it. Since the KC Drafthouse decided to include it as part of it’s “back to school” programming I felt I had no choice but to revisit it. I was a little disappointed to find it wasn’t on film (I’m assuming it was a blown-up version of the Criterion blu ray) but it was still worth going out for if only for the sound. One wouldn’t expect an indie comedy to have much need for a system that will blow the doors off a Volkswagon, but when the montage of escalating revenge between Max and Blume suddenly erupts behind the proto-rock opera of The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away,” you know you’ve made the right choice. It’s this way for a lot of the British Invasion tunes for the soundtrack, actually. The immortal strains of The Creation’s “Making Time” (arguably the most famous part of the film) provides enough kick to absolutely pump you up from the very beginning.
As much as I love the majority of Anderson’s work, Rushmore does seem to be the best film he’s ever made and in my eyes he will probably never top it. It features the fantastic new wave visuals that have come to be synonamous with his name, but it is less rigid and, dare I say, ambitious than his later outings. The looseness and small-scale of the film are absolute perfection and the script by Anderson and Owen Wilson is playful while never skimping on emotion. They often prefer to let actions or visual cues speak for themselves rather than spelling out what every character is feeling through some monologue. Just note the transformation in Bill Murray’s character after Max’s olive branch at his dad’s barber shop. While he’s still the same guy, there is a fundamental shift in how he looks, beyond the shave and a haircut (two bits… sorry, couldn’t help myself.) The movie is filled with these kinds of choices that would only work in a film, and that’s part of what I love so much about it.

The_TenenbaumsSmallThis is all opposite Royal Tenenbaums, which I watched with John and, while he’s certainly had films that covered more territory, I would consider to be his most “epic” feeling film, what with the ambitiousness of covering two decades worth of the lives of this family. It’s done in a rather ingenious way. One that I think Arrested Development has been inspired by whole cloth, with the sudden flashback gags that slowly reveal a greater picture of their lives. Sometimes only to a picture or a piece of media that is expounded upon later. (Like the brilliant montage of Margot’s secret life set to “Judy is a Punk,” one of my favorite tunes.) So far I’ve been a huge fan of all but one of Anderson’s movies, but this really was the one-two punch that made him one of my favorite filmmakers.

Criterion just needs to put out Life Aquatic on blu ray so that I can finish the collection.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Gravity

Ironically, she floats into the Event Horizon.

I knew two things when I walked out of Gravity the Thursday evening it opened.

1.) It was the best movie I’d seen this year. Yes, even better than Pacific Rim.

2.) It is the first movie I would actively advise people to see in 3D because it absolutely adds to the experience.

At its core an art film disguised in 90 minutes of 100% pure, uncut survivalist adventure, it manages to be one of the handful of films I can say I’ve never seen anything like and I officially predict it will be imitated by others for years to come. Copied until people will watch it in thirty years and wonder what the big deal is simply because it has been so thoroughly disseminated into the popular culture, not realizing how different it was at the time. (The last film I would describe this way is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which has officially began to be “homaged” in music videos.)

Seemingly filmed in large part as a series of long, uninterrupted takes, (honestly, it’s crazy enough that a lot of it could be multiple takes seamlessly put together through movie magic) it almost manages a documentary feel; yet while the camera is in constant motion, it never ends up with the terrible shaky-cam cinematography that has become so much of a crutch to modern filmmakers. It feels like it’s masterfully controlled through the entire film and is always in exactly the right place.

What also makes the cinematography incredible is that, even without lots of crazy tricks and things flying at the screen, it is the best use of 3D photography I’ve ever seen. I think a case could be made for it to win “best visual effects” come Oscar time, even over some astounding efforts from the likes of Man of Steel or Pacific Rim. Earlier in the year I marveled over the conversion job that had been performed on Jurassic Park and how so many things in that film seemed like they’d been created for 3D. This despite many of the things that impressed the most being things that I’d never really seen a 3D movie. Some of the best bits in Gravity are the same kind of beats. Like a close-up of Sandra Bullock’s face inside a space helmet with her breath fogging up the inside, the black void of space stretching infinitely behind her, Earth in the distance at the side of the frame.

Make no mistake, the film is gorgeous. But then so was Sucker Punch and that film was terrible. So what else makes Gravity work? Let me count the ways… First off, it is one of the most leanly constructed films I can think of in a long, long time. It’s not happening in real time, but due to the way the film is shot, (the aforementioned long, uninterrupted takes) it does take on that feeling. And not one second is wasted. We are either learning about the characters or watching as the rhetorical question, “What else could go wrong?” is answered with, “Oh, that.” In its 90 minutes there are really only a handful of quiet moments and they are all essential. They are all integral to the story and documenting the character arc of Dr Stone, a scientist that is not so much a trained astronaut as a specialist that is only there to fulfill one mission. One of the really clever bits is how much we learn about her as Clooney’s veteran astronaut tries to talk her down from a freak out. And then there’s my personal favorite moment of the film; an artful bit in which a space station is used as a metaphor for the womb, live-giving and perpetuating a feeling of safety from the chaos outside.

The film really only has two performances aside from a few voice-overs (including one that’s a bit of a clever in-joke from Apollo 13.) While I wouldn’t say that nobody else could have been in their parts, I know that Clooney and Bullock get people in the door and both do their job well. Clooney plays himself like usual, smarming his way through and getting away with it based on his charms. Bullock has the more weighty role and should prove her worth to those that moaned over her getting an Oscar for that football movie I never saw. She manages to bring a perfect balance to her part; she looks great (there are more than a few non-gratuitous ass shots contained within) but she manages to project enough of her “everywoman” look to feel believable instead of being a supermodel in a space suit. She also manages to be vulnerable without seeming weak or whiny, an important distinction in a film like this.

Almost a full-fledged co-star in the film is a stupendous score that manages to fill the void created by the fact that they actually keep space silent, all sound coming from comlinks and within structures. (Yes, there was sound in the trailer. You will not find it in the actual film.) I am not familiar with the composer, Steven Price (though I should since his two other credits are World’s End and Attack the Block) but after this effort I have a hard time believing he will not manage to begin occupying the same sort of space within the movie composing sphere that a newbie like Michael Giacchino did after his twofer of Star Trek and The Incredibles.

So let Neil deGrasse Tyson kvetch on Twitter like a bitter guy who is mad he didn’t get a technical consulting fee. Gravity is an experience and one you won’t likely forget.

(Five damns given out of five.)

Aisle Of The Damned Episode XVII: The Lost Episode (Not Affiliated With J.J, Abrams or ABC Television)

ES ‘SPLOSION of entertainment! That’s what you’re in for as Bryan and Kent blow up MacGruber, Casino Royale, Jaws on Blu-ray, Detention, an overview of Hulk Hogan‘s *cough* outstanding film career, Total Recalls old and new, The Bourne Legacy, Lawless, Paranorman and Resident Evil: Retribution. That’s right folks, it’s a flashback from last September as we play catch up.
The Aquabats – Stuck in a Movie, Black On Black – No Good So Far

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