Thursday, July 21, 2016

Film review: Ghostbusters

I went in with a lot of apprehension. The commercials really weren't funny, and I thought Paul Feig's "Bridesmaids" was terrible. (In fairness to me, I loved his Yahoo original series "Other Space."

Yet, this was a funny movie. I giggled through the whole film. Even during the (rare) slow parts I was still giggling from the previous jokes.

The plot: Estranged friends who wrote a book about the paranormal get called to ghostbusting action by a museum director whose museum is haunted. Meanwhile, a hotel janitor is working on a plan to unleash all of the city's ghosts. It parallels the original story while giving us enough new stuff.

Kristen Wiig acts as straight man for Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon. She also pulls off some backstory exposition which is a serious as the movie gets, and gets away with it.

Chris Hemsworth is hilarious as the dim receptionist.

And even though pretty much the whole cast of the original makes cameo appearances, it's a reboot, not a sequel.

And not only do the cameos serve as an acknowledgement of the original, the film also points out the internet hate the film got before shooting even started. All while taking the high road and never losing the comedy.

Some casting notes: The only living cast members missing were Rick Moranis and William Atherton. I was pleasantly surprised to see "Other Space" stars Karan Soni and Neil Casey. By all means, let me recommend this show again. There were only 8 episodes, each hilarious.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Old-timey movie review: The Benson Murder Case

The more William Powell/Philo Vance movies I see, the more I appreciate  Michael Curtiz's The Kennel Murder Case. The rest are fairly amateur productions.

Once again William Powell is the detective, but he is not allowed to use any of the charm we'd see in the Thin Man. It's another unlikely whodunnit with another unlikely solution.  The first act is people arguing with the ultimate murder victim to the point of threatening him with murder. He of course is murdered and Philo Vance figures it out.

The film gets points for the murder taking place in a lodge on a dark and stormy night. This never gets old.

The characters and scenes are pretty standard. It's the cinematography that baffles me though. In some of the office scenes the camera is so far back we can barely make out the characters, yet we can see how high the walls are on the set.

In other shots of the same office, the camera is overhead. What?! Once again, baffling! Maybe for an establishing, outdoor shot, but indoors! In an room with people? Just goofy.

Compare this camerawork, to the daring, dizzying cinematography in Kennel Murder Case. Curtiz knew what he was doing.

Conversely, there isn't a single close-up in the entire film. All these great 30s character actors and we don't get to see any of them up close. I'm sure the close up had been invented then. Especially William Powell's expressive, handsome mug.

Check it out on YouTube, or if it ever turns up on TCM, but keep in mind, it's just a warm-up for Nick Charles.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Old-timey film review: The Bishop Misbehaves

Before Ted Turner bought up the MGM library, and before the networks bought up all the local TV stations, local stations would show films from the '30s on their late late movie.

In the early '80s, I was working the overnight shift at a self-service gas station and had a little TV to entertain myself in the long hours of the shift. After the local news, after Johnny Carson, after the Hawaii Five-O rerun, after Letterman (the Philadelphia NBC affiliate had no faith in this new show from the quirky standup so instead of showing it after Johnny, they showed it an hour later after Hawaii Five-O … before this they didn't carry it at all, until Letterman fans complained), the station had a late movie which featured these classic films.

Some 30 years later I vaguely remember watching this film, but when it showed up on TCM I had to watch it. I must have only watched the first 15 minutes because that's all I remembered.

This is as cozy as they come, there's crime, there's men with guns, but at no point does the viewer feel anyone's in danger. And it's as British as they come (even though it was probably filmed at MGM), there's a vicarage, old-fashioned pubs full of Brits with thick accents, and foggy backstreets.

The first third is the young couple plotting a heist. See, the young woman (Maureen O'Sullivan) says her dad was cheated out of a patent and wants to rob the villain who stole the McGuffin. Her new, American boyfriend (a concession to American audiences?) readily agrees and they recruit some British felons to assist.

This is Colombo-esque, the first half hour is the crime, then the detective shows up to start picking apart the perfect crime. The detective here is a great Edmund Gwenn, a mystery loving bishop delighted to stumble upon a crime. He finds little clues at the crime scene, but for the rest of the film his attention to detail is kind of forgotten.

There are a few laughs but it's not so much a mystery as a caper unfolding and derailing. It was based on a play and it's all very stagey as the Bishop talks to the characters in a couple of settings (the pub, the vicarage). But instead of a  real cat and mouse game it's more like, "I have a gun… wait, who turned off the lights?" "Now, I have the gun…" or "I have the incriminating papers … " (punch!)  "Now, I have the incriminating papers."

Some good jokes seem to fall flat due to the unevenness, it should have been all screwball instead of the occasional screwy moment.

The real disappointment comes at the end when the villain is shamed into doing the right thing.

That's it? No actual mystery-solving, or last-minute twist?

Just when I thought, well maybe a sequel could make things better, the last minutes of the film show Gwen throwing his collection of mystery books in a fireplace swearing to never solve a mystery again.

So, not all old timey movies are classics, but they'll do in a pinch on a late, lonely overnight gas station shift.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Listen to me!

I'm the guest panelist on a pop culture podcast, you can listen to it here.

It's me and two co-workers discuss Star Wars: A New Hope, and one of us never saw it before until now.

Missing Midnight Movies

Flipping through the channels at 1:30 this morning I came across "Heavy Metal" the 1981 animated film based on the magazine of the same name. (and they blurred out the boobs! This is silly because it was 1:30 in the morning, and the point of the whole movie was the boobs!)

Watching the film so late at night made me think of something that's not there anymore: Midnight Movies.

For you kids too young to remember, in the 70s and early 80s, on Friday and Saturday nights movie theaters would show cult films at midnight. The most famous of these was of course "Rocky Horror Picture Show," but there were others.

This was before VCRs, and these showings were pretty much your only chance to see some notorious films you heard about, but were never shown on TV.

What better way to show your maturity and independence as a teen than watching an X-Rated film at midnight with your friends, then coming home at 3 am?

If you weren't there, here's what you missed:

Rocky Horror: There's been terrabytes written about this film, so I'm sure you know all about it and more than likely have seen it. I will say this: It had a great rock and roll score, and it bothered me that we're supposed to feel sympathy for the main character even after he kills Eddie in cold blood.

Heavy Metal: A fairly true adaptation of the magazine; it really didn't need the McGuffin as a linking device, why link the stories at all? Sex and boobs and sword and sorcery, probably better as a midnight movie than watching it on TV.

Fantastic Animation Festival: When they advertised it, they stressed the Pink Floyd segment. Unfortunately, you have to sit through a lot of avant-garde stuff before this segment, and the audience of teen stoners I saw this with were getting pretty impatient.

The Ralph Bakshi Ouvre: Wizards, another adult sword and sorcery/science fiction epic, lots of fun; Fritz the Cat, cartoon animals having sex. Once again, films that would never be shown on commercial television.

The animated films I've mentioned all contain sex. In the 70s the only animation around was Disney animation, so when producers started making animated films it was as if they were intentionally trying to get as far away from Disney wholesomeness as possible. Cartoon characters having sex though, doesn't necessarily lend itself to good storytelling.

I look at "Futurama" as a happy medium. It's for kids, it's for grownups and it can get blue without actual sex for the sake of sex.

House of Wax: Every once in a while they'd throw in a horror movie. Usually this and "Creature From the Black Lagoon," both in 3D and both better on the big screen where you can feel the audience jump in their seats.

Amazon Women on the Moon: Probably made specifically for the midnight movie crowd. A cinematic brother to  Kentucky Fried Movie and TunnelVision, all of them episodic trippy comedies.

Paul McCartney: Rockshow: A recurring theme with midnight movies was  rock and roll. "Woodstock," "Quadrophenia" and "The Kids Are Allright," were staples.

Now, if we want to watch  a cult movie, we can stream it or watch it on one of 300 cable channels. What do teenagers do for fun now?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Overdue Gravity Falls finale review

Wow, what a great show. It would often go to the very edge of creepy or scary, then someone would say a joke to reel you back in.

But here's the real reason why the Weirdmageddon finale was great: The series was obviously inspired by the X-Files and Twin Peaks, but unlike those shows, Gravity Falls tied up its loose ends! They knew the ending from the beginning. They weren't making stuff up as they went along.

Serial mysteries like X-Files, Twin Peaks, Lost and 24 would throw in weird left turns and the viewer would think, "wow, that's incredible, how are they going to explain that?" And they never did!

Gravity Falls, being a limited series (a long limited series at that) threw us curveballs, confident in the knowledge that they would be explained.

Either way, really a great show equally intriguing and funny for kids and adults.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (spoilers ahead)

The bad news which isn't too bad: Ultimately, it's a remake of Star Wars: A New Hope. It opens with a person under attack planting a message in a robot, then sending the robot off. A loner in the desert finds the robot, and the loner turns out to be much more important than initially thought.
And it ends with an attack on a Death Star that has a fatal design flaw ...again...

..and all kinds of familiar plot elements in the middle.

If you ignore these swipes (and more), you'll have a good time at the movies. It's often exciting, the new characters are great. It's easily better than the prequels. And you have Harrison Ford who is worth every penny of the $20 million he reportedly got.

There's a couple nice surprises: The turncoat stormtrooper, Kylo Ren's parentage.

Some quibbles: It took Luke Skywalker three movies to learn to do things with the Force that Rey learns in one afternoon.

For never handling a light saber before, Finn and Rey are really good with it.

But if you just forget the past, you'll have a good time at the movies.