25 November 2022

52 for '22: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

MovieRobin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Method: HBOMax

Why Did I watch this?

Hehe, okay. This is primarily because I'm a huge Mel Brooks fan and have memorized Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993). I know in his filmography that's definitely a lesser work, but the one-two punch with that and Spaceballs (1987) got me through my childhood. I always knew that it was heavily based on Prince of Thieves, and as we'll get to, I didn't know just HOW much of it is a shot for shot parody. But like many films on this list, it always seemed like a big cultural deal. I was five when it came out, so for whatever reason I just missed it on first release.

What Did I know ahead of time?
A solid amount, apparently. Again, all my knowledge came from Men in Tights. Very honestly if you know that movie well, you know this one. I knew about Kevin Costner's terrible / non-existent British accent and how slithery and awesome Alan Rickman's Sherriff of Rottingham would be. I didn't know Morgan Freeman would have the significant Dave Chappelle role. But also like, it's Robin Hood, you know the deal.

How Was It?

In general this is honestly pretty good. It's very much an earnest, rousing 90s action swashbuckler, and it's very fun to cheer for the good guys and sneer at the bad guys. Costner assuredly turns in an all-time terrible performance, but somehow that doesn't really get in the way of the fun of this film.

And I'm going to say it again. The plot follows Men in Tights exactly. EXACTLY. We should dive into this right away, because I always thought Tights was a general swashbuckler parody that lifted a little bit from Prince of Thieves. Every scene and character line up exactly. Except there wasn't really an analogous Prince John character, which was weird. Now I don't know where that mole thing came from, I always thought it was just referencing something.

So, the plot is exactly that. Robin of Locksley is fighting in the Crusades, he's imprisoned, has to escape, finds his family castle destroyed, so he joins up with some freaks in the woods to undermine the cruel Sherriff of Nottingham and ensure that King Richard can keep his thrown. So it is obviously socialist, but also seems that way just to ensure the Divine Monarchy prevails. And the king is Sean Connery! I think I knew that but I forgot. It's a legit casting. But he's always the King so whatever. Good to be the King.

Tights does all this but with a comedic bent. You can get the sense that they just went through the screenplay and then added jokes to whatever was happening on screen. I couldn't help but laugh every time a character appears, from Tracey Ullman's witch to Broonhilde. I guess I don't know where they came from, but everything is so specific and exaggerated. It just got me thinking, like, why so late in his career would Mel Brooks target this specific movie? I suppose it's ripe for parody because so much of it is ridiculous, but also somehow...this was the #2 movie of 1991?! I guess it was a big deal, then? He kind of already did sci-fi with Spaceballs earlier, so a Terminator parody was out. Wouldn't like a Gangster parody of Goodfellas (1990) have a lot more staying power? It's endlessly fascinating to me looking at people from the past picking what they thought would last and be iconic. Then again, if Mel Brooks cared about that, he probably wouldn't have included a lengthy cringey Sherwood Rap.

Also, Dave Chappelle is in Tights, in a pretty major role. After just seeing him on SNL it's quite wondrous to see his film debut. You get the sense that he is putting his own spin on things but is probably pretty constricted with what the can and can't do. It's always nice to remember he got his start with Mel Brooks.

Anyway, back to the actual film here. As bad as Costner's accent is, Morgan Freeman's miscellaneous Middle Eastern accent is not much better. I liked the running gag that he doesn't really want to help anyone, but keeps saying he swore and oath. It does pay off! Man that dude can throw a saber. There are some really unbelievable fight scenes, people flying through the air, out the window, like, it's a very self-serious movie but there are these interludes of very broad slapstick comedy. Man this movie is a beautiful mess.

Alan Rickman is here, as the most sniveling villain of all time. His hair is huge and so, so black. He's like an insane witch-worshipping lothario cop and some of his lines around the women he definitely rapes are equally brutal and hilarious in a Wolf of Wall Street (2013) hopefully ironic way. There are some heavy, HEAVY themes here, and the film doesn't pull any punches with his intentions. My wife loves him for some reason.

Christian Slater is here! Will Scarlett O'Hara! He's kind of a twerp and very young, I'm glad the movie didn't really go the route I expected it to with his betrayal. He's fine. Michael Wincott from NOPE (2022) is here! What a gravelly awful voice he has. He does a great job as the Sherriff's Lieutenant. Fun all around.

Not too many roles for women. You've got Marion, the witch, the definitely-not-Marion because she's ugly. Marion gets this badass Gimp Ninja introduction but then doesn't do too much else. I guess that's her deal. Robin Hood does get the greatest treasure in all the land, so that's something.

But there wasn't an archery contest! I was waiting for that the whole movie. Where was my Patriot Arrow? Oh well. I really thought they were leading up to that. They did it sort of, I think the direct scene is when they are training in the woods and then everyone is together and Robin has a disguise (kind of) as a beggar. I love the running gag that he smells.

I kept thinking about the cinematography here compared to Rings of Power and House of the Dragon, and it might just be nostalgia, but there's something to be said for the practical set design, grainy film, and dim lighting when shooting a Medieval epic. It's so dark, damp, and dingy with low lighting and close, claustrophobic sets. There is a practicality here that adds to the needed realism for this kind of genre. Also plenty of cheap woods to film in!

There are many expansive shots and great vistas as well. Something like The Green Knight (2021) did Medieval Fantasy in a modern context the right way. There is, however, little shot continuity and one zoom into the forest that is so random and prolonged it feels like a joke. Like, they escape and say "We need to go into Haunted Sherwood Forest!" and then the camera just slow zooms in on some trees and holds there. Mel Brooks did more of this specific camera parody in his 70s films when he took on Universal Horror and Hitchcock films, it'd be fun if he had clued in on the bizarre editing and camera techniques on display from director Kevin Reynolds here.

There are wide angle lenses, zooms, POV shots, a lot of dynamic stuff, which I'll give them some credit for, this movie looks more interesting than your average modern blockbuster, but some of it definitely takes you out of the experience.

Anyway, the most important thing here is that this film was INTERESTING. Engaging, fun, and felt epic. There always seems to be a high profile Robin Hood movie for some reason, and this one rises above the others by being earnest, sincere, stupid, and its own thing. It's not trying to make a Gritty Robin Hood like Russell Crowe or a modern cynical Robin Hood like Taron Edgerton. I should watch those next year. But I enjoyed this and you should, too! Especially if Men in Tights exists rent-free in your brain like it does in mine.

Good Turkey this Week!

18 November 2022

52 for '22: Dolemite

Movie: Dolemite (1975)
Method: XUMO

Why Did I watch this?

Oh, so many reasons. Dolemite is a huge cultural force in a lot of stuff I watch, apparently. Black Dynamite (2009), MadTV, Dolemite is My Name (2019). It's the epitome of Blaxspoitation films of the 70s and you see it everywhere from Chappelle Show to The Boondocks. The realy question is probably why I didn't see this earlier.

What Did I know ahead of time?
Thanks to the relatively recent Dolemite is My Name, I knew a good deal. I knew Rudy Ray Moore and the general plot of Kung Fu black action. Between that and Black Dynamite I pretty much knew the whole deal, actually. That's rare for this series. This was way more of a checkmark movie than getting into something brand new.

How Was It?

Man....I mean, it's Dolemite. You kind of know what the deal is, right? This is by no means what anyone would call a GOOD movie, but it it for sure has its own charm and to be honest, it's more tightly plotted than one might think.

It's really a Rudy Ray Moore showcase. I didn't realize the entire Signifying Monkey speech would be in this thing, and that wasn't even the only longform comedy poetry (or whatever you'd call whatever he does. This is very much a vehicle for him to just do whatever he wants. He takes it more seriously than Eddie Murphy did playing him, which makes the movie work more.

He's still just as out of shape as late stage Eddie Murphy though. Like, very out of shape. But a potent sex symbol! He bangs many, many women in this. I really couldn't keep track of them. They totally have a Dora Milaje vibe to them, though, and despite being this obviously a pimp-centric movie it seems to be pretty pro-women. They have major roles and make a difference! But there are far too many characters of every gender in this film. Why are there so many people in this, it's maddening.

The basic plot is that Dolemite is let out of prison to try to nab this bad gang leader (played by the film's director), and then a lot of sex, Kung Fu, and jive talking ensure. There is so much wit to this movie, it's something to be missed these days.

Everything else is pretty bad. It is fantastically cheap, the editing is really shoddy, and the camera is not interesting or dynamic at all. It's hard to criticize, because that's like, part of the whole deal. That's what you know you're getting into when you press play on this movie. Its an entertaining romp but you aren't signing up for high cinema.

Ultimately I don't know, I was pumped up but I didn't really see anything I didn't already know or infer from its wide influence. I suppose that's a good thing? It's amazing that this cheap little trash film has carved for itself such a significant cultural niche that's well known and celebrated. I am all about more Black Kung Fu movies. It's a lost genre for sure.

11 November 2022

52 for '22: Gods and Monsters

MovieGods and Monsters (1998)
Method: Tubi

Why Did I watch this?

I gotta admit, Tubi is coming through on this series. What does it say about my tastes that most of the movies I want to watch are on Tubi? Also, there doesn't seem to be a save progress feature if you don't have a paid subscription? I dunno, wasn't that hard to remember my time stamps.

I have no idea how this got on my radar, I've definitely just liked the title for a long time, although I think I got it mixed up with Gods and Generals (2003). I added it to my Netflix DVD queue on April 28th, 2010. It might have been an interest in seeing Ian McKellan in a non-Gandalf or Magneto role, and I know it got enough Oscar buzz to score three nominations (but no wins) during the year of its release. Maybe I was searching around for things related to Frankenstein (1931), anyway, I don't really know, but it felt like nice viewing. Also, it was available when I had a time crunch to write this article.

What Did I know ahead of time?
Alright, so I forgot most of the plot until I started watching it, but I did know about James Whale and that it was a weird predatory gay movie with Ian McKellan. I forgot the squidge was Brendan Fraser and didn't really know how much of a biopic this was or anything. Like, was it the making of Frankenstein or what? So, a little but not too much.

How Was It?

This was one of the better movies I've seen in this series, which was very rewarding. Not everything fires on all cylinders here, but it's witty, intriguing, and has exceptionally strong character work. The movie follows James Whale, director of Frankenstein twenty years after his most notable foray into horror (and wisely places the spotlight on the mostly acknowledged as superior film, Bride of Frankenstein [1935]), after he suffers a stroke and then (SPOILER) dies. But it's the road there that's fun.

I felt a little kinship to Ed Wood (1994), which also highlighted an icon of Horror, Bela Lugosi in his final pitiful years after playing Dracula. In that film, he desperately clung to what made him a cultural force, although he was well past his prime or relevancy. Whale here on the surface seems eager to leave his role behind him, claiming that he has had much better pictures since, and that his life isn't over yet (it actually is). However, he is clearly proud of his work on the movie, and finds joy in explaining it to new audiences and seems to accept that it's what he'll be most known for. It's a nuanced take in how one relishes the fame they've earned for a singular work but also strives to be a well rounded human being.

Then there's the gay stuff. James Whale was a magnificently flaming homosexual, and there isn't a better actor to play him than Ian McKellan who is equally a queen. In the ever present problematic category, he does appear more of an older seducer and predator, which feeds some nasty old homosexual stereotypes. This won like a GLAAD award, so maybe it's okay? Whale is certainly a fleshed (hey oh!) out character and you really do get a sense of his history, repression, and desires in the film.

And he's not all that bad. He just tries to manipulate young boys into taking their clothes off in his private home. He does also definitely try to rape Brendan Fraser, although some of that may have been him losing his mind after the stroke and forgetting where he was and who he was with. OR it was an attempt to enrage him into killing him, since he was suffering confusion and memory loss. He committed suicide soon after. So there might be a weird pass for some of the behavior, and it all works within the confines of the movie. I am just curious if a modern portrayal wouldn't lean so heavy into the "Old gay men want to capture and have sex with all the pretty straight boys" narrative so much.

He really just wants an outlet for his proclivities. And whether he's too old to really have sex anymore or just wants to play around and file some images for the ol' spank bank is up for debate. It's why this movie works, it gives you enough insight into his mind to make some inferences but doesn't give any clear answers. It's very good.

There are many Frankenstein metaphors too, including some magnificent recreations of the set during shooting flashbacks as well as archive footage. Is Whale the mad doctor and Fraser his monster? Or might he be the monster?! oooohh. There are also great recreations of World War I during shooting flashbacks and you get the sense of all the trauma that went into Whale's psyche despite his outwardly cordial appearance.

Fraser does a good job, it's hard to remember that he was an actor once. This was right before both X-Men (2000) and The Mummy (1999), so it's fun to see both these guys right before they hit mainstream blockbuster stardom. He's an assuredly lost soul and easily manipulated, but he is also able to be his own person while accepting the influence of others. It's good work. I also kept thinking about him in The Whale (2022). I wonder if that ever came up?

This is a great flick, it's really specific, and elevates itself over other biopics by just focusing on one moment in the subject's life. Also, Brendan Fraser's character is totally made up. It uses a bit of fiction to accelerate the themes it wishes to convey instead of dragging out contrived tropes. Like WEIRD: The Al Yankovic Story (2022)! You still get a sense of who this dude was, more so than other biopics because you see how he reacts, not just what other characters do to him. All biopics should follow this format.

But no, there are no actual gods nor monsters in this movie. Sorry.

04 November 2022

52 for '22: Domino

MovieDomino (2005)
Method: HBOMax

Why Did I watch this?

Haha, alright. I've seen some bad movies in this whole go around in my attempt to catch up on the pop culture of 20 - 40 years ago. I remember getting pumped up for Domino when it came out because it was in that early super hero boom after like the X-Men movies and Daredevil (2003) and I totally thought it was this Domino. That's not all THAT outrageous, right? Like there were a lot of these kinds of movies like Punisher (2004) coming out at the time and it wasn't that crazy to think that there'd be a mercenary Domino movie.

To be honest, I thought this made a bigger splash in pop culture, but it only made like $23 million at the time and was a huge bomb. I just remember thinking about Domino a lot in 2005 and I had always missed it. UNTIL TODAY.

What Did I know ahead of time?
It was peak Keira Knightly after the Pirates movies and King Arthur (2004). I watched that this year, too. What a year to catch up on bad Keira Knightly movies, huh? I knew she was a bounty hunter and yes, I did know that it was based on Domino Harvey, not Domino of X-Force. Much weaker, in my opinion. I knew it wasn't critically lauded or a long lost hidden gem or anything, but quite frankly, I didn't think it'd be this bad.

How Was It?

Oh it's that bad. I also recently just watched director Tony Scott's first film, The Hunger (1983) and his trademark really does seem to be story obfuscation by way of incomprehensible stylization. I don't know how this dude made Top Gun (1986), which plays things relatively straight. The Last Boy Scout (1991) is part of his catalogue, so that makes sense.

I mean, Keira's pretty good, you can tell she's giving it her all. This movie is so bad she shows her titties and still no one watched this in the years of peak Knightly. I kept thinking throughout this film about how much the actors were trying but the camera kept zinging past their faces, moving in circles, having washed out color, and constant, constant cuts. It's baffling how badly this was edited. More on that later.

Keira is good but it feels like she's hardly in this movie. It's the kind of film where we're constantly told how good she is but rarely shown it. It also oggles her hardcore. She achieves her first bounty by stripping for the perp and the male gaze never lets up. She gets catcalled in the movie, which is not indicted, and even the HBOMax description frames the plot as "The story of how Keira Knightly became the sexiest bounty hunter in the world. It's lurid and insane and very very mid-2000s.

This might be the most mid-2000s movie ever. It's somehow washed in more green and yellows than Swordfish (2001). It's all grimy, the alt-rock needle drops are extremely high and there are plenty of off color jokes and side characters made up of racial stereotypes. It is a Michael Bay imitator but without the scope or explosioncraft. It's bad. It's really bad.

I've never watched a movie that was trying so damn hard to be interesting while also being the most conventional movie ever. The plot was meaningless obscured, there is a wrap-around story as well as an origin story, and then another wrap-around story. I timed the inciting incident at around the 50 minute mark of the 127 minute run time. It's really hard to sink your teeth into this film when it spends sooo much time treading water to get to what the plot is actually about. And when it's there there is double-crossing, mistaken identities, complex money schemes, and a Christopher Walken-lead reality TV show. It's a lot.

See, even a movie like Inception (2010) that has a famously intricate plot actually has a really simple controlling idea. Influence this guy through his dream so that Leo can reunite with his family. Done. I can't sum up Domino, man. This really could have used a Dredd (2012)-like laser focused 90 minute run time, in and out with some simple, fun, character-driven action.

The movie tries extremely hard to prevent you from understanding whatever the incomprehensible plot is. This has one of the worst editing and cinematography jobs of any movie in history. There is no room to breathe, no pacing, constant cuts on still images, multiple cuts in one scene while it's all washed in dark (and unmotivated) lighting and hardcore edge. Lucy Liu is in the opening for some reason, but you can't actually tell it's her because the entire upper half of her face isn't lit. It's a sloppy, sloppy hack job.

The cast is insane, by the way. Lucy Liu, Chris Walken, Mena Suvari, Mickey Rourke, Oscar Winner Mo'Nique, and Macy Gray for some reason. See, Macy Gray was in Spider-Man (2002), it's not that crazy that this would be a superhero film! Also Edgar Ramirez, who isn't really a big name or anything. They all do great. Tom Waits! What is Tom Waits doing here? Do they all owe Tony Scott money or something, why is this cast here. They deserved such a better movie!

I can't help picturing what this would have been like if it was handed to like a 2014 David Leitch or something. He DID direct Zazie Beetz as Domino in Deadpool 2. It all comes together. Anyway, this movie is not good, there's a reason why these have become obscure and forgotten cultural artifacts and I really should stop blowing my freebies on this.

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