Weekly Reckoning: Things That Happened Edition

weekly-reckoningEvery week things happen: things: events and people colliding off each other into ever-more complex concatenations of what ends up being just more things happening. And every week, we sit quietly in a corner and wonder whether the ever-expanding cloud of happenstance points to some design, or whether, once again, it’s nothing but a random whirlwind of flux and death and sadness with the occasional ice cream cone thrown in to keep us around for another week. Then we take a nap.

1 IT’S A MAN’S MAN’S MAN’S WORLD (BY DESIGN) In news that shouldn’t surprise anyone, everything from seatbelts to medicine is designed by men – to the detriment of women. If ever there were an argument for more women in STEM fields, here it is.

2 MILLENNIALS AREN’T RUINING HOTELS Hotels are ruining hotels.

3 GOODBYE TO MISS DAVIS Nancy Reagan died at 94, reminding us that the Reagan presidency actually happened. But what did she do before she and Ronald entered a life of politics? She was a Hollywood actress from 1948 to 1962. Yes, I’m sure you knew this already.

4 “THEY PREFER NAMES LIKE RUTH, PETE, BOBBY, CHARLOTTE AND PEARL” Two professors of language and literature ran computational tests to determine the differences between contemporary novels by authors with an MFA and those without. The results were… well, let’s just say that you can take your tuition money and spend it on a writing studio somewhere.

5 SOMEONE TELL THE SASK PARTY THAT CHILDRENS’ FACES ARE FULL OF OIL Do you like language schools in Saskatchewan? Well, sucks to be you then.

Weekly Reckoning: Blonde Revision Edition

weekly-reckoningApparently Elvis had blond hair. Please retrofit your memories accordingly.

1. JUPITER’S GREAT RED SPOT IS SHRINKING  One of the most amazing space facts of my childhood involved the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. I read all about it: a permanent storm, an angry red pustule on the skin of the largest planet, a reminder of unimaginable cosmic fury. Apparently it’s not as permanent as I was led to believe, because it’s been shrinking noticeably and changing shape over the last few decades. Who fed me the lie of the eternal storm of Jupiter? Was it Carl Sagan? Probably Carl Sagan.

2. DON’T MILLENNIALS UNDERSTAND RACISM?  Hah hah, millennials are dumb. Dumb like gravy. And racist! They’re racist because they think that thinking and talking about racism is racist, and that empty platitudes about equality constitute a serious statement about the world. Those millennials should all just go back where they came from, which I suppose is the luminous void of eternity. No, I kid. Millennials are needed to replenish our dwindling supply of cranky old racists.

3. GODZILLA 4EVER  After a ridiculously huge opening weekend, a Godzilla sequel is already in the works. Not bad for Gareth Edwards, who had all of one low budget feature to his name before this monster of a monster movie. You can read Jorge’s review of the film right here on the Dog Blog.

4. THESE PEOPLE AGAIN  The Royal Family just can’t get enough of Canada. And we can’t get enough of those long-faced castle dwellers who incarnate the foundations of our law and government.

5. NORTH KOREAN EXECUTION ONLY TEMPORARY  Remember the story about the former girlfriend of Kim Jong Un getting executed by firing squad? Apparently they’re really cutting corners on death sentences these days, because she just appeared on television. Granted, it’s possible to record someone as an electrical signal on magnetic tape and reproduce that signal at a later date, thereby granting the recordee a form of crippled immortality, but that appears not to be the case here. The lesson here is that North Korea is weird and that we can’t believe any news that comes out that vortex of totalitarian unreality.

The Raid 2: Berandal

Raid 2I love martial art movies. So when I heard that writer / director Gareth Evans had made a sequel to his brilliant 2011 masterpiece The Raid, I was very excited.

The Raid was a Indonesian action film directed by Gareth Evans (not to be confused with Gareth Edwards who is directing the new Godzilla movie) who is Welsh but has been based in Indonesia for a few years now and has made a couple of action films there with star Iko Uwais. The plot of The Raid was simple, a team of police officers, with rookie cop Iko Uwais, attack an apartment complex that an evil drug lord owns and allows various criminals to hide out in for protection. The cops are betrayed by a corrupt cop and Iko Uwais has to battle 15 floors of criminals to take out the bad guy. The film is a non-stop adrenaline rush.
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Weekly Reckoning: Stay Inside Or Freeze Your Eyeballs Edition

weekly-reckoningYes, it’s cold. This is not news. It’s an ongoing and eternal condition. This lousy weather trumps your verb tenses and freezes all time into an unchanging lattice of stilled space-time. But in the meantime, there’s the Internet.

1. SOME SORT OF SELF-SERVING MEDIA CELEBRATION IS GOING ON That’s right! It’s Oscar night! Celebrities are putting on their Oscar hats, having their teeth fitted with Oscar grills and wearing the skins of past Oscar winners. You can watch it on TV, but I prefer the snark-laden live blog on Deadline Hollywood, which usually collapses in a heap of disgust before the night is over. Unlike previous years, Nikki Finke won’t be providing the commentary, so it may be a little more measured. If schadenfreude’s your thing, check out The Razzie Awards and find out who took home a Golden Raspberry.

2. NO CANADIAN BOOTS ON THE GROUND FOR UKRAINE John Baird, who isn’t winning any awards for being our cuddliest politician, ruled out military intervention in Ukraine, even though he’s not afraid to make noise about possible diplomatic sanctions.

3. IT’S LIKE HERDING ONE-EYED CATS Before R&B music was absorbed by the musical establishment like delicious sauce being swiped up by a big bland white towel, it could get pretty filthy. Here is a guide to the salacious, smutty and downright obscene music of early R&B.

4. LASER-POWERED MIND CONTROL Scientists. Using lasers. To make a fly copulate with a ball of wax. SCIENCE.

5. FAITH-BASED SEX LAWS DOING AN END-RUN AROUND JUSTICE In Phoenix, prostitutes have been subject to mass detainment without a formal arrest or access to a lawyer. Instead of jail, they’re taken to… a church. Where they’re lectured on the evil of their ways in a “diversion program,” the alternative to which is jail time. Read this piece and weep (warning: really obnoxious and pervy American Apparel ad running on the page).

Sunday Matinee: While The City Sleeps

While the City SleepsFritz Lang was a master filmmaker creating many classic and legendary films but near the end of his career Lang was tired of bending to Hollywood’s constraints. He made several excellent film noirs during this period and one of his final American films was this excellent 1956 noir While the City Sleeps.

It seems that there is a serial killer stalking women in the city at night. His calling card is a lipstick written message “Ask Mother”. A dying media mogul has dubbed the killer “The Lipstick Killer” and when he dies his son Vincent Price takes over the company. Not having a clue how to run the company, Price conceives of a contest between three division heads. Whoever can discover the killer’s identity before the cops gets the top job of running the company. Ace reporter Dana Andrews is drawn into the contest and eventually uses his fiancee as bait in order to catch the killer.

This is an excellent thriller, Lang uses all his tricks to convey the story of people trying to one up each other in the name of the news. Everything is gritty and most of the characters are busy trying to screw each other over. It’s not as well praised among Lang’s many films but it’s definitely worth a watch.

One quick note. Sunday Matinee is taking a hiatus for the month of October, it’s that time of year again and 31 Days of Horror is upon us and it’s going to be good one. Sunday Matinee will resume in November.

Sunday Matinee: King Solomon’s Mines

King Solomons MinesOne of my favourite adventure novels is H. Rider Haggard’s classic story King Solomon’s Mines. Written in 1885, it pretty much kick-started the lost world adventure genre. The story has been made into a film about six times and Hollywood’s interpretation of the novel only gets worse with each new adaptation.

The first adaptation was in 1937. It greatly changed the novel by adding a white female character. In the original novel the only female character was a village native who forms an interracial romance with one of the supporting characters. She has never been included in any of the movie adaptations, instead a new white female character has been continuously added to the story, usually as a love interest to Quatermain.
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Sunday Matinee: The Thief Of Bagdad

The Thief of BagdadDouglas Fairbanks Sr. made some excellent adventure films in the 1920’s. One of the cooler ones is this 1924 fantasy adventure, The Thief of Bagdad.

Fairbanks stars as the thief Ahmed. He’s in the city of Bagdad plying his trade, stealing left and right. He steals a magic rope in order to break into the palace. While in the palace he sees the caliph’s daughter sleeping. Falling madly in love with her, Fairbanks decides he’ll try to steal her but he gets interrupted and has to escape.
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Sunday Matinee: Blow Out

Blow OutI’ve been watching a lot of Brian De Palma lately particularly his work in the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s. Blow Out (1981) was De Palma’s 14th film. De Palma had previously directed Dressed To Kill an homage to Alfred Hitchcock and with Blow Out he changed things up and tried a riff on Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up.

John Travolta stars as a movie sound man. He’s working on a cheesy horror movie and needs to record some new sound. He goes out to a park to record some wind and witnesses a car crash. The car was driving down the road when it suddenly veers into a river. He rescues a woman from the car (Nancy Allen) but isn’t able to save the man. It turns out that the man was a senator and probably the next president. His people want Travolta to forget about Allen, who is a prostitute, which would embarrass the senator’s family if it was discovered that he had a prostitute in his car. When the press hit the hospital the cops convince Travolta to smuggle Allen out the back.
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Sunday Matinee: The Kentucky Fried Movie

Kentucky_Fried_Movie_movie_posterThe Kentucky Fried Movie was director John Landis’ second movie and the first film for David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, the writer / director team who made Airplane! and The Naked Gun.

Made in 1977 the film was made on a low budget ($650,000) and it followed the 1974 sketch comedy film The Groove Tube. The Kentucky Fried Movie is just a series of sketches from news reports to fake trailers to an actual movie spoof. The longest skit A Fistful of Yen is a fairly straightforward spoof of Enter the Dragon. The film was a huge hit at the time making $15 million in the U.S. and it helped John Landis get his next job Animal House.

The film is considered one of groundbreaking films in the spoof and mocumentary genres. After watching it might have groundbreaking at the time but today, well. The film is mostly hit and miss with the jokes. There’s more groaners than actually laughs. Yes the low budget is evident but that really doesn’t affect the effectiveness of the jokes. A bad joke is still a bad joke. Perhaps one just has to be in the right frame of mind to find the movie funny.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyMZHNBVcio

Sunday Matinee: Tokyo Story

Tokyo StoryLast year Tokyo Story (1953) was named number three on the greatest movies ever made Sight and Sound list. The list is compiled from directors and film critics around the world once ever ten years. While it was number three overall it was number one on the director’s list. I’ve seen the majority of the films on these lists but somehow Tokyo Story was the elusive film that I somehow had never gotten around to seeing until now.

The film follows an elderly couple who leave their home in a small town and travel to Tokyo to visit their children. There are three children living in Tokyo. The oldest son is a married with kids and is a doctor. The next is a daughter who is married and runs a beauty salon. Neither have time to spend with their parents. They decide to send their parents to a spa for a vacation. That isn’t why the parents have come to Tokyo but they go anyway. The only member of the family that treats them kindly is a widowed daughter-in-law who was married to their middle son before he was killed in the war. After the spa the parents go home. Then something else happens.
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Sunday Matinee: Zatôichi

zatoichi-criterion-collectionI had something else originally planned for today’s Sunday Matinee but then Criterion announced something that I couldn’t ignore. On November 26 Criterion is releasing a massive 27 disc / 25 movie box set of Zatôichi.

For those unfamiliar with Zatôichi it was a series of movies that started in 1962 and ran until 1973 for a total of 25 films. In 1974 a TV series was launched that ran for four season for a total of 100 episodes. Shintarô Katsu starred as Zatôichi for all the films and the TV series. In 1989 a final Zatôichi film was made to wrap up the series which Shintarô Katsu wrote, directed and starred in.

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Sunday Matinee: Red Dust

220px-Red-Dust-1932-film-posterBack in 1932 Clark Gable teamed up with Jean Harlow for the second time. The film Red Dust was such a hit that MGM decided to continue pairing the two for a grand total of six films. This pre-code film was also remade in 1953 as Mogambo by John Ford with Clark Gable playing in the same role.

Gable is a rubber plantation owner in French Indochina. Harlow is a loose woman on the run from trouble in Saigon. She ends up staying at the plantation and starts a flirtatious relationship with Gable. Soon an engineer (Gene Raymond) shows up with his wife to work for Gable. The engineer is out of his league in the jungle but thinks it’s a great opportunity for his career. He doesn’t realize that his wife (Mary Astor) and Gable have started having an affair behind his back much to the chagrin of Harlow.

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Sunday Matinee: She

SheShe is a 1965 film from Hammer Film Productions based on H. Rider Haggard’s 1887 adventure novel. Hammer had wanted to expand out of the horror genre and this film kick-started a whole line of adventure / lost world films for them.

Those unfamiliar with Haggard’s story the novel is a classic adventure story about a lost civilization in African run by an immortal queen who is seeking the reincarnation of her lost lover. The story, along with Haggard’s other classic adventure tale King Solomon’s Mines, inspired countless adventure stories to follow.

The film has standard Hammer actors Peter Cushing as the archeologist Holly and Christopher Lee as She’s head priest Billali. Ursula Andress is Ayesha aka She who must be obeyed or She for short. The producers didn’t like the sound of Ursula’s voice so she was dubbed by the same actress who dubbed over her voice in Dr. No, Nikki Van der Zyl.
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Sunday Matinee: Berlin Express

Berlin ExpressJacques Tourneur made his name directing excellent low budget horror movies for producer Val Lewton. By the late 1940’s Tourneur was moved into RKO’s A list and had just directed the brilliant Out of the Past. He followed it up with Berlin Express in 1948.

The plot follows a group of multinational individuals as they take the Berlin Express, a train that takes people into Germany from Paris in postwar Europe. Robert Ryan is an American agricultural expert who is assigned to help work on the food shortage in Germany. Merle Oberon is a French secretary who is traveling with a German national Paul Lukas who is trying to unite Germany under a peace accord. Evil Germans are trying to kill Lukas before he can give a speech. Ryan and Oberon enlist an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Soviet soldier to help Lukas.

The film is an exceptional thriller but the movie’s biggest draw is the authentic look at postwar Germany. The producers gained access from the U.S. military to shoot footage in war torn Frankfurt and Berlin. The cities are massive sections of crumbling buildings with large groups of German citizens scrounging and bartering for food.

The film has earned the film noir label and the gritty cinematography certainly helps the label but the film has an upbeat and optimistic look at postwar Europe. Despite all the intrigue and assassination attempts the film seems to say that everyone can work together despite the cold war that had already started.

Sunday Matinee: Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze

Doc_savage_the_man_of_bronze_dvd_coverDoc Savage turned 80 this year. The pulp hero has influenced a generation of action heroes, pulp and super alike. Superman himself owes much to the man of bronze. In fact Doc Savage was the original man of steel before Superman stole the moniker.

Doc Savage first appeared in a pulp novel magazine in March of 1933 (and appeared in 181 of them total) and was quickly adapted into a radio show and in comic books but strangely unlike his other Street and Smith counterparts, Nick Carter and The Shadow, Doc Savage never got a chance to grace the big screen until 1975. In the 1960’s Doc Savage found a resurgence when Bantam Books reprinted his stories. Suddenly Hollywood was interested in making a movie. There was a plan to turn the story The Thousand-Headed Man into a film starring Chuck Connors. It fell through but legendary film producer George Pal obtained the film rights.

The result was Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. The film stars the 15th screen Tarzan Ron Ely as Doc Savage and it’s directed by Michael Anderson (Around the World in Eighty Days, Logan’s Run). The film isn’t very good. For some strange reason the film was made as a campy comedy and it doesn’t really work. It’s nice to see Doc on the big screen along with The Fabulous Five, Doc’s group of helpers, but the film is so corny.

The film was a box office bomb, naturally it lost out to Jaws and plans for a sequel were immediately scrapped. Since then there have been rumblings every couple of years about bringing Doc to the big screen. At one point Arnold Schwarzenegger was rumoured to play Doc and a couple of years ago Sam Raimi’s name was attached to a feature film. While it would be nice to see a Doc Savage movie I can’t help but think that the time for it has passed and it would be better for Hollywood to leave well enough alone.

Sunday Matinee: Unforgiven

Unforgiven 2013Usually it’s the Americans who take excellent foreign films and remake them, with less than stellar results. But it goes both ways. Japanese filmmaker Sang-il Lee (Hula Girls, Villain) has made a remake of Clint Eastwood’s Oscar winning 1992 film Unforgiven.

The standard practice had been to take classic samurai movies and have they turned into a western. Seven Samurai – The Magnificent Seven, Yojimbo – Fistful of Dollars. But this sounded like the reverse. Ken Watanabe steps into the Clint Eastwood role as a samurai taking a bounty on a couple of guys who cut up a prostitute. But after watching the trailer it looks less like a samurai film and more like a western. In fact it looks exactly like the original Unforgiven but with different actors. It might still be interesting to see.
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Sunday Matinee: Jim Kelly

Black_belt_jones_movie_posterJim Kelly passed away last week at the age of 67 of cancer. Kelly was best remembered for his supporting role in Bruce Lee’s biggest hit Enter the Dragon.

Jim Kelly was a karate champion who had opened up a karate school in L.A. in the 1970’s that was popular with some Hollywood stars. Through the school Kelly was cast in Enter the Dragon. This lead to a three film deal with Warner Brothers. His first movie with Warner was the kung fu Blaxploitation action film Black Belt Jones from Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse.

The film stars Kelly as Jones, a karate master whose old friend Scatman Crothers runs a karate school. Crothers is in debt to a loan shark and the loan shark is in debt to the mafia. The mafia wants the land that the school is on for a land swindle deal and they are trying to force Crothers to give up the property. When things go wrong Crothers’ daughter (Gloria Hendry) shows up and helps Jones kick the mafia’s ass. The film is a light-hearted action romp. The final fight scene is a weird battle outside an automated car wash where Jones fights the bad guys in a massive bubble bath like fight.
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Review: The Lone Ranger? More Like The Lost Ranger

"Can you believe Disney spent 250 millions in this movie?"
“Can you believe Disney spent 250 millions in this movie?”

Other than the original, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are bloated, plot stuffed affairs. Given that the most important elements of said saga –Johnny Depp ,Gore Verbinski and the writers- are also the cornerstones of The Lone Ranger it’s no surprise the film suffers of similar problems. Not to mention the wild tone shifts scattered through the movie.

Based on the legendary TV series (in turn inspired by a radio show), The Lone Ranger is an origin story hoping to become a franchise, as about any other movie to open this summer. Lawman John Reid (Armie Hammer), his brother and his posse are massacred by felon-slash-cannibal Butch Cavendish (William Fitchner). Reid, however, is saved by Tonto (Johnny Depp), a wayward Comanche with a beef of his own with Cavendish.

The partnership is not an easy one. Tonto doesn’t think highly of Reid, whose straight-arrow stance is unpractical most of the time. In turn, the would-be Lone Ranger believes his aboriginal partner is, at the very least, unbalanced.

The movie works best when dealing with the material in tongue-in-cheek fashion. Depp and Hammer are good comedians in leading men bodies and develop a strong rapport. However, some brutal violence (natives are massacred by the cavalry) shifts the tone completely. Director Gore Verbinski seems to distrust the material so he keeps adding layers. When the climax finally arrives (after two meandering hours), the film has three over-the-top villains involved in four to five death matches in a confusing train wreck of a sequence.

If nothing else, The Lone Ranger takes advantage of Monument Valley in Utah, the setting of most John Ford films. If only the movie was half as good…

Two masked prairie dogs. They look like raccoons.

Sunday Matinee: The Beast Of Hollow Mountain

beast_of_hollow_mountainThe Beast of Hollow Mountain is a mediocre 1956 western horror science fiction. It has some entertaining moments but it’s overall a forgettable film. But watching it did bring forth something that Hollywood is missing today. Where are the dinosaur movies?

Based on a idea from Willis O’Brien who was the special effects master for the original King Kong, the film was the first cowboys and dinosaurs movie. Yes that was a genre. A small genre with The Valley of Gwangi being the other.

Guy Madison stars as an American cowboy running a ranch in Mexico. He ranches near the Hollow Mountain where legend has it that a mysterious beast lives. Madison has been losing cattle and he blames another local rancher Eduardo Noriega who is trying to run him out of town. Noriega thinks that the American should go back to Texas where he belongs. Patricia Medina is the woman torn between the two men. As the melodrama reaches a boiling point where Noriega tries to thwart Madison’s plans to sell his cattle, the beast finally emerges, eating cattle and locals alike. Continue reading “Sunday Matinee: The Beast Of Hollow Mountain”

Review: The Bling Ring Takes On Gen-Y

Hermione uses her powers for evil.
Hermione uses her powers for evil.

Between 2008 and 2009, a group of L.A. teenagers burglarize the homes of celebrities the likes of Audrina Patridge and Megan Fox. Their tools: Google, poor security and unrestrained sense of entitlement. Their motivation: To be like them by stealing their clothes and jewels.

 The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola’s fifth feature film, is a fascinating one. Francis’ daughter, known for her oft-kilter, “European” approach to filmmaking, treats her subjects as lab rats: Doesn’t judge them, but feels no compassion for them either. More than the break-ins, her attention focuses on the forces that lead a group of teenagers to behave so amorally (and idiotically: it’s like they have never seen CSI.)

 There are no clear protagonists in The Bling Ring. The presumed leaders of the group are Rebecca, a born manipulator, and Marc, a gay kid just happy to be included. Among the followers Nicki (a terrific Emma Watson) stands out, a model wannabe who believes fame is a goal onto itself, as most of her victims do. These teens honestly believe Lindsay Lohan is a role model.

 The film’s indictment of celebrity culture is spot on. Sure, the kids are impossibly vacuous, but they have been raised by Entertainment Tonight. It’s no surprise they covet Paris Hilton lifestyle (To Hilton’s credit, she lend the filmmaker her grandiose mansion to recreate the felonies.) In a fantastic scene, home-schooled, Adderall-addled Nicki is introduced to The Secret, the self-help book according to which all you need to accomplish your goals is positive thinking (education and hard work be damned). The scathing portrait of deluded and ineffective parents helps to understand the kids’ hedonistic instincts.

 Coppola breezy approach and compelling cast may give the target audience the wrong impression. The Bling Ring is too sophisticated to be a mere cautionary tale and it could easily be understood as a romp a la Project X. Celebrities, perhaps hiding the house keys under the front mat is not the best idea.

 Also a bad idea: Mixing leopard and zebra. Fashion’s biggest no-no since socks and sandals.

Three and a half fashionable-yet-flaky prairie dogs. (Now playing at Cineplex Southland Mall)