I’ve been trying to catch up on some stuff in my Netflix queue. Finally. I had the same discs sitting in front of my TV for, like, four months. So let’s take stock of some things I’ve seen lately on blu ray.
CBGB: Those of us who are fans of old school punk (aka those of us who listen to The Ramones and don’t just wear their shirts) all know about CBGB, the club that gave rise to great punk and new wave bands when the rest of the country was awash in the horrors of disco and arena rock. Blondie (back before they went disco themselves), Talking Heads, Television and many other bands got their start on its stage, in front of floors packed with people that weren’t smart enough to run from the bankrupt, rat-infested 10th level of hell that was New York in the 70s.
Alan Rickman is probably one of my favorite actors. Hans Gruber? Snape? The Metatron? Take your pick. He tends to be great in most things he does. However, he typically isn’t trying to play a New Jersey Jew and, honestly, his American accent has gone a little downhill since he was in Die Hard. They try to make up for this by mostly giving him monosyllabic dialogue, but it’s still more a fun excursion than a great performance as CBGB’s owner, Hilly Kristal.
The film isn’t great, but I actually did find it a pretty solid bit of entertainment for a fellow with my interests. There are a surprising number of people that you may recognize in it. Rupert Grint plays one of The Dead Boys, a band known for their outrageous stage shows involving cutting, sex and asphyxiation. Stana Katic of Castle and Bradley Whitford are record execs. That annoying guy from Big Bang Theory is a manager. (I know what you’re thinking; could you be more specific?) Donal Logue wears a hardhad at all times. It’s pretty fun playing Where’s Waldo with them.
The aesthetics are too playful for some of the darker themes of the film, though. It makes better use of a comic book framing device than Ang Lee’s Hulk did (using Punk magazine as its basis for doing so) but the whole thing seems to suffer from a tonal problem. Still, for anyone that loves this kind of music, I say check it out. It’s worth a rental.
LAND OF THE LOST: I know the critical community took a dinosaur-sized crap on this film, based somewhat loosely on the Sid and Marty Krofft television series. And when I say loosely, it’s because most of the elements from the show are present: dinosaurs, time portals, Sleestaks, pylons… but it’s presented in a way that’s completely different. Instead of a family falling through a time portal to the Savage Land, what we have instead is a couple of scientists and a redneck. Will Ferrell is Dr. Rick Marshall, a professor that ruined his career by focusing on time travel and getting into a fight with a well known TV personality. Holly is recast as a British grad student that drags him back into research and looks good in some Daisy Dukes. And then there’s Will, a tourist trap owner played by Danny McBride. He’s pretty much just Danny McBride. Again.
And I can understand why this thing flopped at the box office and audiences stayed away in droves. It’s just plain weird. Like, cult film weird.
I have rattling around in my brain some particularly memorable bits and pieces of the show because they showed reruns on CBS Saturday mornings as I was growing up in the early 80s. And it really was pretty much an insane slice of psychedelia made on the cheap, mostly distinguishable from the Kroffts’ other works by its tone. And the tone was kind of creepy, honestly. As laughable as the effects and the production values may have been, for a kid, it was kind of nightmare fuel. And the movie goes hog wild with the complete bizarreness of the world they created. The plot really doesn’t make sense in a lot of cases, but it also doesn’t pretend to. It uses logic as toilet paper. I use that metaphor because the movie is also kind of filthy. I’m surprised at some of the jokes they got away with in a PG-13 film.
That said, I actually liked the movie. Quite a bit, in fact. There were definitely gags that did not land and a lot of the references to the original show are just plain too on the nose. Actually, so much so that I think they were purposely doing them that way. You can practically see Ferrell playing chicken with the audience when he pauses with drama prior to every use of the movie’s title in his lines. But I thought Ferrell was pretty damn funny doing his pompous idiot routine. I liked the psychedelic rock used in the soundtrack. I liked the grainy, washed out cinematography. I liked the great Sleestak costumes and the terrible CGI effects. And I just plain liked the balls out ridiculousness of the script. Maybe this is based too much on it being a deserved lampooning of my nostalgia, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.
SLEEPWALK WITH ME: Mike Birbiglia is a stand-up comedian who became well-known for a one-man show in which he talks about his experiences with a rare sleep disorder which causes him to act out his dreams. After performing on NPR’s English Major wankfest This American Life, he and show host Ira Glass decided to adapt his autobiographical comedy act into a film.
In some ways you could say that the film is an indie equivalent to Howard Stern’s Private Parts. (Albeit a PG-13 rated one.) He says it is about 70% accurate to his life with some events mixed around and some cinematic shorthand applied. See, Mike is a pretty regular guy working a crappy job and having a dream to make it in stand-up comedy. The problem is that he’s completely awful at it. Regardless, he begins pursuing gigs while his relationship to his long-term girlfriend starts to slowly disintegrate in large part due to his fears of marriage and children. The couple’s horrible friends certainly don’t help. This anxiety triggers his ever-increasingly dangerous and bizarre sleepwalking adventures.
Despite the depressing premise of a failing relationship, the film not only manages to be funny, but it hits on being genuinely sweet at times. He doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to saying that he did things wrong which actually works in his favor. “Remember that you’re supposed to be on my side,” he apologetically says to the audience. It could come across as cheesy, but instead seems genuine. I highly recommend spending seventy minutes with him. It is definitely an excellent film.
FAST AND FURIOUS 6: I have not seen all of the F&F movies. I took the strange move of seeing the first in the theater when it came out and then seeing the fifth in the theater due to interest drummed up from rave reviews. I did not see any of the others in-between. I’m thinking I need to go back and catch the ones in the middle. Maybe make it one of the series I catch up on since I’m switching between several of them. (Currently in the middle of the Zatoichi films and the Star Trek Next Gen films, which we’ll get back to.)
Like the last film, Justin Lin (who’s best work I still consider to be the paintball episode of Community) is at the helm and he creates one hell of a fun, stupid ride. The script is an absolute mess. It’s just dumb. Like, dumb as my sister-in-law’s mentally challenged Boston Terrier. It makes Fast Five seem downright Shakespearian. There are plot points that don’t make even the slightest bit of sense, twists that make you say, “Whaaaa?” and some serious problems with physics. But damn does he know how to do action scenes and do them well. He’s basically a very talented director in search of better material.
The reason to watch this film, like always, is to see some good, old fashioned chases and wrecks. Due to CGI there aren’t enough of them nowadays and it’s great that there’s at least one franchise that is keeping stuntmen employed. Plus, with some of the vintage vehicles they pull out, you’re getting some classic car porn. The actors are still really likable. Putting them all in the same film is what really kicked the franchise into new territory when most film series would have died. The problem is that my favorite two characters are gone by the end of film, which cuts into my interest in the upcoming seventh film (currently scrambling to recover from the death of Paul Walker).
It’s hard to believe that this franchise has become one of the most successful in Hollywood history. I suppose maybe part of it is because there’s been surprisingly little imitation of it. In my head, I’m assuming it is because it was a slow-growth success where most copycats go after things that are overnight sensations. Either way, despite my misgivings about the intelligence of the plotting, I am much less insulted by this series that quietly serves its fanbase than I am more aggressively stupid fare like the Transformers films. So I say keep making them as long as they’re entertaining.
STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT- And here’s the first film in these reviews that I did not get from Netflix. I’m very, very slowly making my way through the Star Trek movies. I love the original cast and I am a big fan of the JJ Abrams helmed films (more so the first than Into Darkness, though both are well made) but I’ve never been a great lover of Next Generation. I’m a Kirk man through and through.
That said, I am a big fan of this film for multiple reasons and it was nice to revisit it. Picard actually does things. The action is handled well, even if there isn’t that much of it. It manages to build on some squiggy plotpoints from Generations in a positive way. (Mostly Data’s emotion chip.) And it has a lot of humor involved.
I guess the way I would try to sum it all up succinctly is that it doesn’t succumb to shoving its head up its own butt as I’ve learned to expect from a lot of modern Trek with Berman and Braga. The blu ray looks pretty darn good and showcases the then cutting edge work ILM did on it (watch for the cameo by the Millenium Falcon fighting the Borg cube), even if there are some examples of the problems of early CGI.
I haven’t seen Treks 9 and 10, so the next couple of films will be new to me. I’ve heard that First Contact is the one excellent film they did with the characters, so it’ll be interesting to see if I agree with fan sentiment or if I’ll enjoy them more since I’m not particularly invested.