30 September 2022

52 for '22: KRULL

MovieKrull (1983)
Method: HBOMax

Why Did I watch this?

This was like 80% that episode of South Park, which I did not know even referenced this, and like 20% leaving HBOMax at the end of the month. Mostly recognizing the glaive from the picture. Honestly I hate to admit that for the past 15 yaers I thought South Park was referencing Predator, to the point where I was surprised to re-watch those films the other month and see no glaive. Anyway, this is clearly a gap in pop culture knowledge for me, so I pressed play.

What Did I know ahead of time?

Apparently like, nothing. I thought this was going to be in space! Like The Ice Pirates (1984) or something, like a bad B movie. Instead it was a bad B movie but set in Fantasy Times? But also sort of also Outer Space Times? It's kind of a cool premise, like monster aliens invade in a disappearing mountain who mess with the medieval magic people. I had no idea about any of this going in, but I knew there was a glaive, so that kept me going.

How Was It?

I mean, in no world is this a good movie, but it's pretty fun and tries to be unique, even if it steals every trope in the book. You can very easily tell this was in a post-Star Wars world that was trying to copy everything they had, with a dash of Clash of the Titans (1981) and other generic fantasy titles thrown in. BUT there is enough to make it stand out, namely the merging of sci-fi and fantasy along with everything in the Beast's castle which is bonkers and surreal with some really mind-blowing sets and lair layouts.

The premise is basically Spaceballs (1987). A prince has to marry a princess to unite two rival Kingdoms to fight the Beast and his evil Space Army, but the princess is captured by said Beast, and so the prince has to unite a merry band of misfits to save the day. It moves at a remarkable pace, without slowing down to explain much of anything, which does work in its favor. It doesn't give you time for Fridge Logic and you just have to go along with the nonsense. It's primarily a fun adventure film and you're just along for the ride.

And you really have to be because there is no real plot development or logic here. It feels more like a series of disconnected Fantasy set pieces than anything that builds on itself. Like, we have the Quicksand Swamp, Spider's Cave, Fire Horses, and the Beast's Castle without any real logic between them, just like, things that would be cool and the characters move from one to another. They encounter problems, some of which are significant, that they largely solve just because they have to instead of proving themselves. You see this most in the SPOILER end when the hero uses the glaive to kill the Beast (it's not really a glaive btw). It doesn't work, so he just uses his Human Torch fire finger power, which I guess he had this whole time. Like, he just stands and points his fingers. It's not at all cathartic or worthwhile, it just kind of happens because now the movie has to end. The whole thing is like that.

Like, since the Evil Castle movies at sunrise every day (I really wanted a scene where one guy was left outside when it vanished, so he would fall to his death. That's not even out of the ordinary for the ending scenario, I've never seen a movie dispatch its merry rogues with such abandon in the last 15 minutes), they need a Seer who can predict where it goes. When that Seer is killed, it's no big deal, the old guy who has been traveling with them the whole time just happened to used to bang the Widow of the Web, so he goes there and asks her. Like, it's a journey to defeat the Spider, kind of, but they seem to always have a solution in their back pocket for new problems that are based on happenstance, not character.

Don't get me wrong, a lot of these sequences are fun and interesting, but there's not really an authentic story progression. I really liked the set design, so many Fantasy Realms are just generic (cough Rings of Power cough) but trekking through the brown swamp here feels really cool. And the mountain, the Lair of the Beast, and even the smooth, clean lines of the Princess' Castle feel like they hint at some kind of technologically advanced medieval world that just helps the world-building.

As far as characters go, we have the most generic pretty white boy protagonist of all time. I feel like they tried to give him a Han Solo look with a Luke Skywalker personality but blander. It doesn't work. Rounding out his merry band is a comic relief character who looks like an uglier Eric Idle and sounds exactly like an uglier Eric Idle, and also Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane for some reason. Robbie Coltrane looks Mexican but speaks in an English accent so that might be accidental racism there? Like, I don't think they were actually going for brownface. And yeah, that's straight up 1983 Liam Neeson. It must be bizarre for the rest of the cast of Krull to look back and see an A-lister amongst their midst. He's got presence here, man. It's a consistent but definitely bit role, but his voice has a ton of authority and he displays way more charisma than just about everyone else.

The Princess is good, she seems like she has her own agency and isn't like, a flighty stereotype, but she's still captured like Princess Peach in a generic plot. I think it's the actress bringing more to her character than what's on the page. There are no other women in this movie.

This does a great job of giving each of its characters a distinctive look, name, and weapon. I recall the Hobbit movies decidedly NOT doing this with their dwarves. That band on a mission style we just don't see anymore. I remember feeling this with the Clash of the Titans (2010) remake, which was in this zone, which felt very old fashioned twelve years ago. Everyone's got their own little thing and their own backstory. It harkens back to a time of more renegade filmmaking, now when everyone is safe and generic it's hard to make anyone stand out.

I keep talking about generic versus distinctive and it's tough because so much of this movie is really on the copy and paste side, but there are also wildly inspired creative bits. It's a weird zone to be in. Again, it was surprising how much the ending sequences just kills most of our characters, some get worthy deaths, others are definitely just offed without much fanfare. I'm also torn on the bad 80s effects. The ambition of this movie might have outstretched the constraints at the time, but maaaan it just makes Star Wars look so much better. Some of the green screen here just feels unnecessary, like they could have found creative ways around their clunky compositing rather than just going for something that looked bad. That lesson is still being learned today.

I'm not sure why their swords clashed red lightning when they struck each other, it felt like they wanted lightsabers but knew they couldn't just straight rip them off. I did love how every time the Monsters were killed they screamed the same sound effect and then a giant worm wiggled out of their brains. I mean, for real, some parts are awesome. Krull is the kind of movie that needs a remake - obviously some sort of pop cultural legacy, cult or not, but not significant enough to piss off a large dedicated fanbase and an easy way to update writing and effects to modern standards. Maybe change the name, the name Krull is obviously terrible.

My impression is a net positive, it was pretty fun, there is enough wackiness and levity to get us past the stuff that doesn't work and it helps that it doesn't take itself at all that seriously. It's definitely weird, You have like, today to watch it, so plug it in!

23 September 2022

52 for '22: Lost Highway

MovieLost Highway (1997)
Method: Netflix DVD

Why Did I watch this?

This was again one of those things where I pretend to be a David Lynch fan but haven't actually seen too many of his movies. It's like I absorb the general culture of weirdness above what he's actually doing. I forget why I selected this exact film, I think I just checked out the general premises of a bunch of his films and this caught my eye.

What Did I know ahead of time?

And yes, I totally forgot what that premise was leading into this and I also had no idea who was in the cast. Bill Pullman! Wow! Loved him in True Lies (1994). Anyway, I knew it was Lynch and not only that, but peak late 90s Lynch so it was bound to be weird, but it started off so casually! Well, suffice it to say I didn't know much. Let's get into this thing.

How Was It?

Man....man I don't know. It really does border on incomprehensible and not always in a "oh, you just don't get it" sort of way. This movie starts off with an interesting story of marriage dysfunction between Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette, adds a layer of creepiness with someone secretly videotaping them and then jumps off the fucking deep end.

Pullman is framed (?) for murder, although it seemed like he did commit it, or at least committed it in some kind of fugue state? And goes to prison. While in prison he body swaps? I guess with some weird kid with weird parents, which takes up the middle 70 minutes of the movie. See, we get the first forty minutes following Pullman, then we just swap stories. I kept trying to track the throughline of themes, and it's the barest thread. Something about identity or fugue states or just trying to grapple with maintaining a moral compass amidst murky chaos.

Anyway, Balthazar Getty gets tied up with this porno mobster and Patricia Arquette's sister, but maybe the same person, reality goes on a bender, he has literally four separate sex scenes, goes to this creepy cabin and then transforms back into Bill Pullman who kills the porno mobster, whose death started the movie.

So what does it all mean? I don't know, I'm not really here to unpack the plot, and it's kind of foolish to do so. It's in that zone that's either brilliant or a huge misfire. I dug the minimalist design, the never-ending darkness, and the general disdain for a boring life here. Like, no one has pictures on any walls, all boring suburban furniture, like they're trapped in this prototypical domesticity that's blown apart by the surreal. It's really such a subtle way, though. It's not like psychedelic and colorful, just off and unnerving. It's maybe the most en media res movie ever made, there is no rope here. That's admirable, but also apt to lose the audience. I get the vibe that David "It's a Friday once again!" Lynch doesn't list that amongst his daily concerns.

When I was a kid I really only knew Bill Pullman from Spaceballs (1987) and thought he was just a comedy actor. Like, I didn't understand that actors could do different genres of movies and thought he was like a Dan Aykroyd or Bill Murray. I always thought it was a gag that they cast him as the President in Independence Day (1996). His acting is fine here, he doesn't do too much but scowl and play bad saxophone.

Patricia Arquette is very Patricia Arquette here, playing kind of a breathy, flighty bimbo, which I also didn't know she could play. I've really just seen her as moms and in Little Nicky (1999). She's a genuine babe here! Her character (or characters?) add depth as the movie goes on as she's clearly up to more than what we think she is, and she has this real sinister bent underneath her veneer of sexy fright.

Balthazar Getty looks like if Charlie Sheen fucked Legolas. That's all I really kept thinking about. And Robert Loggia also from Independence Day shows up here! What a fun reunion. How has his rant against tailgating not gone viral? Probably because no one has seen Lost Highway. Shit should be legendary.

This is the last film role for both Richard Pryor and Robert Blake! Robert Blake apparently made all of his characters' costume and mannerism decisions, which makes it even more baffling. He's also a murderer! Pryor's appearance is bizarre, he's in like one scene and Getty walks in and sees him just chilling there. You can tell the Parkinson's was getting at him even at this point but that energy still tries to shine through.

I dug a lot of this. It is a truly odd experience when Gary Busey is one of the most normal parts of your movie. I don't think you can unearth the plot. Characters literally change who they are, create different stories, but also maybe it's the same story? They are in two places at once and maybe two characters at once? You need to just let go and give yourself into the vibe here, which is noir and wacky.

Check out more 52 for '22 right here!

16 September 2022

52 for '22: Night of the Comet

MovieNight of the Comet (1984)
Method: PlutoTV

Pretty good for a girl? That's pretty good for Rambo!

Why Did I watch this?

Bro, I forget, haha! This got on my radar somehow, I really forget why. I definitely have an interest in B-Movies and the more 80s the better. I like existing in that world between camp and sincerity, with a little bit of winking goofiness that's sort of lost in our more modern age that oscillates only between ironic cynicism or humorless self-seriousness. Anyway, I love the genre and read somewhere at some point that this was good or interesting, so I pressed play. It was also leaving Pluto soon, so go watch it.

What Did I know ahead of time?

Whelp...there was some kind of comet and then some bad stuff was going to happen. I knew it was in that B-movie zone and that some dastardly weird sci-fi weirdness was at stake. That's honestly more than I usually have go go on.

How Was It?

This movie is amazing. I loved every second. The basic premise is that a comet is headed perilously close to earth, but I mean, it's fine, it's not going to hit or anything. But the tail comes close and that makes everything go cuckoo bananas! Most people turn into dust (a full thirty-five years before Thanos), others are turned into ghouls, and some are just dandy. Those dandy people are our main protagonists.

Regina and Samantha are sisters with a very specifically complicated family life - their dad is a Green Beret in Central America so they live with their philandering step-mother. At one point Doris punches Samantha in the face, to which I laughed out loud because it was amazingly unexpected. They both sleep in steel containers through contrived means, but this means they are immune to the dust from the comet's tail that messed up everyone else.

They do keep saying Zombies, but they aren't really mindless brain munchers (well, some are), but being a zombie in this world just means they become total homicidal dicks. So they battle these ghouls for a while, find a radio station that is actually just a recording, and eventually encounter a team of scientists going through sort of a parallel story. But they're evil! They explode and then the movie ends.

What makes this work is its attitude. It is totally a teen comedy set in the apocalypse but again, with none of the irony. The girls are most oblivious to anything wrong going on, despite the sky being turned from blue to red, empty clothes and dust everywhere, and the streets of downtown Los Angeles being abandoned. It take them sooo long to figure out something is amiss. Then they go to the mall. The jokes actually land, although there is again one unfortunate homosexual slur (but it's part of a really good joke...I hated how hard I laughed at that one...). This is also fabulously 80s, with the music, fashion, and big hair kicking into very high gear.

I'm struck by how much our typical view of movies of old is one of backwards values, poor roles for women and people of color, and outdated stereotypes. Well, that really just seems to be a problem, for whatever reason, for our most popular movies. A film like this nails the Bechel test over and over and presents incredibly fleshed out female characters who solve their problems without just being masculine stand-ins. This B-movie in 1984 is doing what so many modern movies are trying to do. Why not remake this one instead of creating a distaff counterpart movie that rings as hollow virtue signaling? Maybe it's because this film was largely ignored for the past forty years.

It maybe has a cult following, but I couldn't believe how modern its sensibilities felt. These underground B-movies were stealth doing the cultural work that we've been trying desperately to achieve in the #MeToo era. This film balances all this with genuine thrills, a compelling plot where stuff actually happens and has consequence, a distinctive visual palette, and a cavalier attitude towards the apocalypse that actually works and feels fresh. I give it to big toes up!

Check out more 52 for '22 right here!

09 September 2022

52 for '22: Hollywood Shuffle

Movie: Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
Method: Tubi

Men on film

Why Did I watch this?

This was added to my Netflix queue on January 11th, 2010. I forget what got it on my radar. It was maybe an interest in old Wayans brothers comedies (although this is really the Robert Townsend show), and a notable but somewhat forgotten bit of 80s Black Hollywood satire. The premise always sounded really interesting to me but I never pressed play. UNTIL TODAY.

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew the just of it, that it was a satire of black actors in Hollywood and their expectations in particular acting roles. I had some idea that it was kind of a sketch movie, I think I honestly had a little Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) in my head, but I know it has nothing to do with that. I felt pretty confident in the humor and was prepared to dive in.

How Was It?

This is pretty good! I was left wondering why Robert Townsend didn't end up being a bigger voice in black comedy, I hate to say, was it because of the reasons laid out in this film? That he wasn't an "Eddie Murphy type" and wouldn't play gangsters and drug addicts? Or was it just Meteor Man (1993)? I should add Meteor Man next year, I have such a distinct memory of that ad in a comic book I owned. I did not watch it. I DID just see him in The Mighty Quinn (1989), which I totally forgot about. Probably because he plays a very sincere Jamaican.

Anyway, THIS film is about Bobby Taylor, played by Townsend, an actor trying desperately to break into Hollywood, even though the role he's up for is let's say, one of questionable African American stereotypes. This is the basic throughline of the film, but we get diversions both through his own fantasies and through fake TV shows and movies that further the film's satirical point.

We don't really see a lot of great sketch films created this way. It worked really well. It all had one driving focus and is able to freely spin from there. It fires on all cylinders structurally and many of the jokes land. We are maybe slightly better than we were representation-wise from 1987, but a lot of this still holds true.

There's this sense in the film, and I always got this from Chappelle Show-style comedy, of a presumption of maligned resources in the black community. Their versions are always the cheaper, shoddier versions than what the whites get and Townsend / Chappelle both accept this but are also slyly indignant. There's hardly a question that what they're being handed is wrong and the movie takes a while for Bobby to realize that he should stand for his ethics instead of taking stereotypical work because work is work.

And this gets into a bigger issue. Is it fair to just have representation at all? Or does it matter that it's the right kind of representation? Characters here argue that they're still getting to appear in films, still getting paid, and still furthering their career, but it's all through really problematic roles that don't illustrate a fully fleshed out experience of Black life in America. It's clear what side the film is on, and we do continue to get this today in a wide variety of underrepresented groups.

It's intriguing that the film ends without anyone learning any kind of lesson, Hollywood not changing, and people pretty eager to step in when Bobby eventually steps out. It's all sorts of hypocrisy, but do they really have a choice when they don't have another choice for a career? The option here is clearly what we've almost sort of gotten to - black voices telling black stories from a black perspective, which can neatly avoid both the Uncle Tom scenarios and the Black Sambo scenarios. We've really screwed up just about everything with white representation of black people, haven't we?

Now, speaking of Chappelle, there is a bit of focus only on the Black Experience, and apparently there's even some critical reevaluation that says that Townsend does to the gay and trans community in this film what the rest of Hollywood is doing to Black Folk. I can see that, but I don't think it's really egregious enough to take me out of the movie, but then again, I am not one of those people so what do I know. There is a casual f-word, which is a nice little reminder that yes, this is 1987.

And Paul Mooney shows up! Sorry, MR. Paul Mooney, as the credits state. It's fun to see him in a big movie, even if it's really just a few lines. Keenan Ivory and Damon Wayans, John Witherspoon, and Dom Irrera are the big names here, but there is a substantial cast of people doing great bit roles. The only thing I'd really want to see is to lean even harder into the sketch troupe idea and see the same actors again and again in different scenarios.

I liked this, and most important, it was very short, a solid 81 minutes, in and out, no waiting for jokes to get stale. It makes its point pretty fast (really within the first few seconds) and the rest is free to riff and develop characters, which is actually pretty solid.

Check out more 52 for '22 right here! 

02 September 2022

52 for '22: 8 1/2

Movie8 1/2(2007)
Method: HBOMax

Why Did I watch this?

This has been one of those movies on my queue forever. Since January 15th, 2010! This is one of the major old movies, an immortal, Mount Rushmore movie, timeless, one that every film student should now. And I've never watched it. It was just that time on the queue.

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew it was Federico Fellini and it was his 8th and a half film, but I'll admit that I haven't seen any other of his films so I don't really know what that means. As I watched it I thought I knew his style, but I was actually picturing Michaelangelo Antonioni, so whatever. I apparently knew nothing about the plot or style or just how surreal this thing was going to be, so it was a lot of fun!

How Was It?

Alright, terrible cultural expose time, this film washed over me like waves on a brick wall. I could not engage with this thing. I really tried to sit down and absorb it, but it couldn't hold my attention. I was maybe not in the best head space, it was late at night, I was tired, kind of forced for this column, but getting through it was rough. I think it was maybe the subtitles, but it also seemed to be dubbed in another language? That may have been the Italian mid-century style of just doing the actor's native language and dubbing later. But the dubbing and subtitles made it tough to follow anyone. This may have just been an HBOMax thing.

I really appreciated just how biting and surreal this was. Like films today don't push this hard enough. Bullet Train (2022), which I just saw, is a great example. Like, that movie is trying so hard to be fun and surreal but refuses to commit. 8 1/2 COMMITS. Maybe too much, scenes seemed to end abruptly, others didn't appear to go anywhere, and characters seem to float in and out without much introduction. I get that that's the point, and there is brilliance in how this film is simultaneously extremely lived in while also a fantastic exercise in surreality. I loved it, but with my headspace, it just really through me out. This isn't really a sit down and brain turn off movie.

The plot follows a director with director's block as he goes through periods of fantasizing about his own life, particularly past relationships, and deals with ex-wives and mistresses, and studio pressure and nonsense in between. It reminded me a little bit of Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind (2018) which was hacked up, restored, and put on Netflix a few years back. I also couldn't get through that. Maybe I just don't do well with films about directors talking to other directors at parties? That's all this movie is, too.

I kept thinking while watching this that I feel like this has been on so many best of lists because it must be so relatable to people close to film who are making these lists. Like if fisherman made Greatest Film lists The Perfect Storm (2000) would be really high. I've hardly ever seen a film where I felt so much space between myself and the filmmaker. It was as if everything was so inside that I couldn't get into it.

So, first, I'll admit that I suck, and I'm sure many people don't have the problem I had. It probably deserves another chance and I should watch it again when I'm ready for it. But there were many things I liked. As I mentioned, the efforts at a warping surreal structure are flawless and something I wish contemporary films would be bold enough to do. It's surprisingly meta, at one point they cast people within the movie for a scene that we just saw in a fake movie. It's actually meta, existing simultaneously as itself and a product within itself, not just calling out tropes like films do these days when everything has been recycled to death.

It's also an incredibly crafted film, I've spoken at length recently about the odd distinction growing between cinematography and computer-generated landscapes and the merit of distinguishing the two, but it's fun to watch a movie from 1963 where you know everything is camera trickery or practical sets.

With that being said, the cinematography here is in fact cinematography and it is stunning. It's the kind of subtle stunning, like again, I think we often think good cinematography is really just a pretty picture of a landscape, where the terrain is doing the work, but it's the black and white interiors, the many people in frame at once, the shadows, compositions, and framing here which are excellent. It's maybe one of the best crafted films ever made.

The acting is fine, again, no one seemed to be using their own voice, and the main dude seems to be some version of Fellini, who is detached, bored, and restless. That's a hard line to follow to make interesting. Kind of like how the protagonist in NOPE (2022) is distinguished by being passive. Anyway, it's tough to make interesting and this film largely doesn't.

That's my culturally bankrupt take, this really hit with some of the technical stuff, but I couldn't get past my personal distance to really enjoy it. Am I the worst film blogger ever? Or is this not that great?

Check out more 52 for '22 right here! 

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