Disaster Double Feature: Godzilla & San Andreas

I realized somewhat recently that I don’t write about big time, blockbuster type movies on here very much. Partially, that’s because I haven’t been writing about much of anything, but also because I sometimes don’t feel like I have a lot to say about films of that ilk. For me, this blog doubles as a kind of digital, poorly edited external hard drive for the things I’ve watched or read, but it’s also a way to tip people off to things that are fun. Considering the latter, it might not seem like Godzilla and San Andreas need a signal boost from a guy without a lot of readers, but I really enjoyed both films, so what the heck?! Continue reading Disaster Double Feature: Godzilla & San Andreas

I Watch A Lot Of TV & Movies: Nic Cage, Downton Abbey, Stand-Up & More

I’m trying out a new format for these I Watch A Lot Of ____  posts. The problem with using the posters is that I feel like I need to fill in all the space on the right hand side, but I don’t always have that much to say. So, I’m going to go with showing a trailer and then giving my thoughts. Hope it works out. Let me know if one format works better than another for you.

Snake Eyes (1998)

On the Nic Cage scale of craziness, Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes lands in a nice sweet spot. He’s playing an eccentric cop who’s trying to figure out who shot a government official while attending a boxing match in Atlantic City. He’s also trying to help his pal Gary Sinese and the bodacious looking Carla Gugino, but this is the type of movie where no one is what they seem and everyone has ulterior motives. The story itself is the kind of thing you wouldn’t be surprised to see as an episode of your favorite procedural show, but De Palma does some fun stuff, putting his own spin on it by playing with perspective, showing scenes from different angles and even doing some nice camera work like showing an entire scene from a boxer’s perspective and then moving out of it to reveal him in a mirror. Where’d the camera go?! Those tricks plus the performances make it worth a watch.

Return To Horror High (1987)

To be completely honest, I was doing some work while watching Return To Horror High, so I missed a lot of details. At first I thought it was a legit sequel to a movie called Horror High thanks to the title and the premise that posits a film crew is making a movie at the exact location that an actual slasher struck. But that’s all in the fiction of the movie. By the way, I thought of this while watching Scream 3, I’m actually surprised the Hollywood version of Hollywood is more callous than actual Hollywood when it comes to these kinds of things. I mean, it’s not like there’s been a fictional Columbine movie shot in the school. Anyway, the film is super confusing because it bounced between the movie we’re watching and the movie they’re making. And then there’s an ending that I missed the set up to but completely bewildered me. SPOILER Was the whole thing a setup? Why? You might have heard of this movie for being an early appearance of George Clooney who plays an actor wanting to go off and get super famous (but everyone laughs at him, which is funny) as well as an appearance by Maureen McCormick of Brady Bunch fame. She’s way over the top, but is still cute and adorable.

Janeane Garofalo: If You Will (2010)

Janeane Garofalo is one of those stand-ups that I feel like I’ve known about as long as I’ve known about stand-up comedy. She was very popular in the early days of Comedy Central and I’ve fallowed her career to some extent since then, though I wouldn’t say I’m a super fan because I don’t necessarily actively seek out her stuff. A week or two back I listened to an episode of WTF with her and then noticed that this stand-up special was on the NetBox (lots of good stand-up on Instant) and gave it a watch. I assumed it was going to be much more political than it actually was because of how passionate she was on certain issues when talking to Marc Maron. She definitely gets into some of that stuff, but she makes sure to keep it funny and joke based, which made this a really enjoyable hour of stand-up. Even if you don’t think you like her comedy, give this one a look.

Norm MacDonald: Me Doing Stand-Up (2011)

I loved Norm MacDonald on Saturday Night Live and that love easily transferred over to his movie Dirty Work, but not much past that. So, I was excited to watch this stand-up and it was another solid hour. It starts off pretty dark with his thoughts on death, but they’re both honest and funny, so you can’t go wrong there in book. Gets a little filthy (okay, a lot filthy) at the end, but it made for great background while I was working. This is a great way of listening to stand-up without having to buy records.

Skyline (2010)

I added Skyline to my NetBox queue when I first saw it on there, but I moved it to the top after listening to the How Did This Get Made? episode focusing on it. I actually expected it to be a lot worse than it turned out to be. Yeah, there are problems with the script and editing, but I didn’t find it nearly as ridiculous as those guys did, though maybe I was primed for a lot more than anything could have lived up to. I actually give the filmmakers a lot of credit for putting together such a good looking movie by basically shooting in one guy’s apartment and doing a few set pieces. All that being said, I don’t think it’s a great movie by any means. A good effort with great effects, but it certainly has its problems.

Downton Abbey Season One (2010)

There is no reason on paper that I should like Downton Abbey. It’s based in an era and place (1920s England) that I’m not super duper interested in. It’s based on a class structure that enrages the part of me still susceptible to rage. And, it’s packed with the kind of scheming you only usually find in soap operas (I assume). However, this show is so amazingly well written and the characters are so well put together that I can’t help but get absorbed. The key, I think, is that, the writers give almost every main character an interesting bit of business, but without shoehorning them in. Plus, how can you not love Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess? By the way, I still have no idea what it means to be a count or an earl and yet it has not impeded me whatsoever. All you need to know is that it’s very important to Robert Crawley who might be the best, most awesome dude in the history of television. How long until the second season hits NetBox?

Trespass (2011)

Trespass is not only another Nic Cage movie, but also one that I watched because it was going to be covered on How Did This Get Made? so it’s double related! This is the first HDTGM? movie that I actually watched in preparation for the podcast and it worked out a lot better than my experience with Skyline. It helped that the movie starts off as one thing and keeps changing with every lie and nearly everything that every character says is a lie. It’s ridiculous on so many levels that it’s almost hard to keep track. Cage looks bonkers with his hair and glasses, the pace keeps changing (first they have 20 minutes to get in and out then they spend hours there) and nearly all of the robbers are idiotic drug addicts or psychos making them one of the worst possible crews around to pull of a diamond heist. Even with how bad the movie is, I’m shocked it wasn’t in theaters. Between the big stars and director Joel Schumacher who must have some cred left, right? Maybe not. That’s a lot of supposed star power with very little faith from the studio. In fact, this movie holds the record for least amount of time between it’s opening release (on only 10 screens) and coming out on DVD. Also, it only made $16,816 in its short time in theaters. Wow.

Stathamathon: Transporter 2 (2005), The One (2001) & Blitz (2011)

I believe my Jason Statham fandom is well documented. I first saw him in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, though I don’t specifically remember him from them. I think the first movie I really noticed him in was the first Transporter flick, which is awesome. Frankly, all three of those movies are huge jolts of awesomeness, worth every moment of viewing. After being primed for a dose of Statham after watching Ghosts Of Mars, I was excited to see Transporter 2 on FX yesterday, so excited that I decided to have myself a little Stahamathon that also included The One and Blitz, which I had never seen before.

In grand Transporter fashion, Frank (Statham) gets wrapped up in someone else’s drama, this time while driving a diplomat’s kid to school. The bad guys’ plot is actually pretty brilliant. They kidnapped the kid and injected him with a virus that needs time to incubate, but once it does can be transmitted through the air. They return the kid to his parents who breathes on his dad who is scheduled to appear at the UN or some such, meaning they’re trying to kill all those people. Or at least get them sick and then charge for the antidote.

Anyway, Statham kicks ass in all kinds of fantastic scenes, my personal favorite is the one with the guy in the boat garage. I think I like Crank and Crank 2 better because they’re just so gonzo, but the Transporter flicks showcase what’s great about Statham: his badass attitude and his no hold’s barred fighting style. Great, fun stuff. Neither of the other movies I watched yesterday topped it, but it was a good way to spend a day.

I figured The One wouldn’t be too heavy on Statham, but the fact that it pre-dated his Expendables team-up with Jet Li by a decade or so, I was definitely curious to see how they interacted. Also, I could have sworn I’d seen this movie, but there’s no way, I must have been thinking of something else. Jet Li plays a guy hopping from alternate reality to alternate reality in an attempt to kill all of his variant selves. With each death, he becomes more and more powerful and his intent is to kill them all so he can become a god. In our world, Li is actually a good guy, so, of course the two fight a lot. Statham winds up teaming up with the good Jet Li which means they only got to fight a tiny bit. But, like I said, this is Li’s movie.

I’m waffling back and forth as to whether or not to call this one silly. I mean, it’s an interesting concept, but it’s not really handled in the most serious or awesome way possible. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Time Cop, but this one has a lot more superpower-based fights which actually look surprisingly cool for a movie that’s 10 years old. Give it a whirl if you haven’t seen it and want something to just have fun with.

Oh, on one last Statham note, I think he was trying to do an American accent. He sounded like himself, but then a little different, dropping a bit of his Britishness, which is weird because he’s playing an interdimensional cop. Are we not supposed to be able to handle the fact that he might be British? Oh, 2001, you so crazy.

Ending the Stathamathon with Blitz was kind of a downer. It’s not an action movie at all, but more of a gritty crime drama in the vein of something like Mel Gibson’s Payback (such a rad movie, by the way). Statham’s the start and gets to do a little more legit acting this time around as a cop coming unhinged as a serial killer calling himself Blitz (as in Blitzkrieg) goes around murdering cops.

It’s actually a really solid movie, comparable to my memories of Guy Ritchie’s early movies (it’s been a long time since I even tried to watch Lock, Stock and Snatch again). It’s very set in the real world with Statham not playing a kind of superman who can take all kinds of punishment and come out on top. A few parts of it felt like they were thrown in there just to be shocking or dramatic, but overall, I enjoyed watching it, even if it was kind of depressing.

The worst thing about the flick–aside from no one getting a flying kick to the face–was the guy who played Blitz. I mean, he played it great, but he was such an asshole, you really wanted Statham to bust out some of those well-known moves and kick this kids face in. What winds up happening to him is pretty cathartic, but sometimes watching Statham’s more dramatic roles is like watching a re-programed Nuke at a museum. You know how dangerous it was (and still can be), so you’re kind of always waiting for it to go off. I’m also not sure how realistic some of the shit Blitz got away with was, but I can suspend my disbelief.

If I had done a little more research of actually planned this out in any way, I probably would have watched Blitz first, then The One and ended with Transporter 2. I was actually hoping that FX would play another Statham movie themselves, but instead they went into back-to-back John Cena movies and no one needs to sit through that. Still, I like knowing that the guy who can so thoroughly kick ass with his feet can also kick ass with his acting. Statham’s the real deal, you guys.

Friday Fisticuffs: Sucker Punch (2011)

I was pretty jazzed about seeing Sucker Punch. I dig Zack Snyder as a director for the most part, with 300 and Watchmen being part of my DVD collection, plus the kitchen sink feel of the movie with everything from giant mechs and steampunk zombies to gorgeous ladies and guns really made me curious. Aside from the trailers, I tried to avoid pretty much everything said about the movie because I was really curious how it was all going to fit together. I’m not sure how I feel about the finished product. I think it will get compared to Inception because both are action films operating on several levels of reality, but I do not think Sucker Punch holds up nearly as well as Inception. I’m going to take a similar approach to this review as it’s nearly impossible to talk about this movie without getting into spoiler territory. There will be three levels of spoilers in the review: conceptual, story and ending, each will be labeled with caps at the beginning. Dive in as deep as you want.

CONCEPTUAL SPOILERS I went into this flick knowing that most of the wild action was taking place in our heroine Baby Doll’s mind. I’ve got no problem with that and it certainly helps explain the genre cocktail that makes up a good chunk of this movie. As I mentioned, there’s three levels at work in the movie. You’ve got the real world (which is still a pretty stylized, time-lost one, but you get the idea), a world where the inmates of the asylum Baby Doll finds herself in imagining themselves as dancers/prostitutes and the battleground world filled with robots and zombies. The border between CONCEPTUAL and STORY SPOILERS gets a little blurry here, so let’s assume the following is a little bit of both. Baby Doll is locked up in the asylum, Real World world switches to the Dancer World pretty quickly without bouncing back and forth until the end. It’s while in Dancer World that Baby Doll goes inside herself where a guy dubbed Wise Man on IMDb explains five key things she’ll need to get out of there (this also happens to be Battle World). While in her head in what I’ll call Battle World, Baby Doll is doing some apparently amazing dancing in Dancer World. The items she needs are pretty basic and ones we’ve seen in either Real or Dancer world.

STORY SPOILERS In Real World, it’s explained that a shrink played by Carla Gugino uses theater-like tactics to get the inmates to deal with their pasts. So, it might seem like the whole Dancer World  set-up is supposed to be the girls (or maybe just one girl) working through their issues. In Dancer World the scumbag who runs the asylum runs a club and keeps the girls there. Instead of theater therapy, they go through dance class, but they still have to perform chores around the place.

STORY SPOILERS The problem I have with this world jumping is that they don’t seem to be super related to one another. Even when one of the other girls (Sweat Pea, Blondie, Rocket and Blondie) is doing the swiping of the item in Dancer World, Baby tends to take center stage in Battle World. There’s a real lack of correlation between the two worlds that left me feeling flat. I love seeing hot chicks blasting steampunk zombies as much as the next guy, and I think the creativity put into the Battle World set-ups is pretty fantastic (ie, they’re not JUST zombies, but they’re steam-powered Nazi-ish zombies), but another problem is that the movie gets kind of formulaic and patterned, which gets a little boring, even with the kick ass action. They need something, Baby Doll dances in Dancer World, the girls kick ass in Battle World, they get it in Dancer World and they move on. Things get really crazy at the end of the movie, which cuts off the repetition, but I’m still on the fence as to whether the end makes up for it.

ENDING SPOILERS Things get pretty nuts in the last third or so of the movie. Plans fall through, bad things happen and even worse things happen to the girls. I didn’t feel a lot of tension during this part of the movie because I was a little bored by the repetition, but the surprises were still pretty surprising. There’s a very strange flip at the end that tries to make you buy that SUPER SPOILERS the story is really about Sweet Pea. This came out of left field for me and doesn’t really make sense, especially when you consider that Baby Doll is not only our entryway into the world but also the very clear hero of the entire thing. I guess it’s possible that, since we see Sweet Pea on the stage in the Real World that we jump into her brain from here on out, but I’m not convinced. There’s some voiceover stuff in the beginning and end about guardian angels and dragons, but it didn’t land with me. I was impressed with how sad the ending is (voiceover not included). Things do not end well for these girls, which is kind of surprising for a big almost summer action movie. Maybe things will make more sense on a second viewing, but I’m not jumping at the chance to do so.

It’s too bad that the varying realities didn’t really match up and the ending didn’t land with me because, this flick kicks off incredibly well. Snyder introduces us to Baby Doll, shows us how wronged she really was and places her in the asylum all with very little dialog. He keeps the interesting stylistic choices going throughout the movie, from a shot the pans from one side of a bank of mirrors to the other (took me a minute to realize the trickery here and I have no idea how he did it) to the reflective shots of the girls kicking robot ass, everything about this movie screams “feast for the eyes.” The CGI gets a little obvious at times, but those moments were quick enough for me that they didn’t stick in my craw too much. I think this review came off as a little more negative than my actual reaction to the movie, but things aren’t marinating with me well. Why would all the girls think they were dancers? Are their Battle World get-ups supposed to say something about their characters? If so, I’m not seeing them. I was definitely left disappointed by the story, but I’m not completely writing it off. I’m open to interpretations and theories. Anyone got one?

NYC & LA Movie Marathon: 7 Movies From Both Cities

I watch a LOT of movies. More so than usual since I’m unemployed/work from home. Netflix really has become my closest friend which is both sad and technologically impressive. Anyway, I like to watch movies or shows while I work on freelance, which means I’m not always giving them 100% of my attention, but enough to do a series of mini-reviews. I’ve been trying to figure out some thematic similarities between the movies I’ve been watching (like the otherwise unrelated Dr. Horrible and Angel of Death from the other day). It wasn’t until I was watching Last Action Hero today which takes place in both New York City and Los Angeles that I realized that a big chunk of the movies I’ve watched recently are set in one or the other. So, what the hell? Even though they’re mostly unrelated, here’s a look at seven movies I’ve watched in the last few weeks set in these places. Hit the jump for the incredibly entertaining reviews.

First up, New York, both because it’s a place I’m semi-familiar with and it contains the movie I watched first.

F/X (1986)
As long time United Monkees know, I watched F/X 2 a little over a year ago and had a great time with it. It was a fun little action movie that didn’t seem to take itself too seriously and had fun with the concept. The original is a bit more straightforward and intense that I was expecting, with Cocktail’s Bryan Brown taking on an assignment from the government to make it look like a mobster (Jerry Orbach) gets killed so he can testify. Turns out he gets double crossed and things go downhill from there. Brian Dennehy still stars as the one guy trying to help Brown’s character and the two team-up to take out the bad guys and win the day, using plenty of Brown’s special effects tricks. It’s a cool movie, but definitely not as fun as the sequel.

RIGHTEOUS KILL (2008)
Not only do Righteous Kill and F/X share a common setting in the form of NYC, but they also share something in the form of awesome actor Brian Dennehy. In this case he plays lieutenant to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. This review absolutely contains SPOILERS, so if you don’t want the movie ruined, skip to The Muppets Take Manhattan. Anyway, the whole plot of this movie revolves around De Niro’s seeming confession to being this killer of guys who fall through the cracks of the criminal justice system. We even have video footage of him confessing. But, it turns out that the video is Pacino making him read his (Pacino’s) diary. See, throughout the movie, they’re only referred to by their nicknames, so when De Niro reads a real name, we don’t actually know who it is. I found the twist to be a fairly interesting one that would probably make sense on further viewings (less High Tension and more Usual Suspects). Personally I liked watching these two veterans working together in a fairly tight script that brings in the talents of 50 Cent, Dennehy, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg and Carla Gugino. Definitely worth the NetBox watch in my opinion.

THE MUPPETS TAKES MANHATTAN (1984)
I must admit, I’m not a huge Muppets fan. That’s not to say I don’t like them, I just don’t have the history with them that a lot of people my age seem to. My only childhood memory of them is from Muppet Babies. After that? The video they did with Weezer. So, it was kind of on a whim that I watched The Muppets Take Manhattan on NetBox and I had a great time with it. The story follows Kermit and the Muppet gang who are fresh out of college (seems like that would make a great movie premise itself) and taking their show to New York to get it on Broadway. After several failed attempts to get the show made, Kermit kind of blows up at his friends who all decide he would be better off if they told him they got other jobs and moved away. This leaves Kermit in NYC, working in a diner and still trying to get the show made. He, of course, succeeds eventually, only to get in an accident that leaves him with amnesia and taking a job as an ad exec, Mad Men-style. I had a ridiculous amount of fun watching this flick and trying to figure out if I’d ever been to the parts of the city Kermit was walking around (I’m guessing so, though the place has changed quite a bit in 25 years). I also really enjoyed the flashback that spawned Muppet Babies. It made a lot of things make sense. Now, I’ve got to check out the rest of the movies.

KRUSH GROOVE (1985)
Holy crap, I loved this movie. I just watched it today (well, yesterday at this point in the early morning) and had so much fun with it. See, it’s a fictionalized history of Def Jam records back in the 80s, but starring a ton of their artists like Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, Rick Rubin, Sheila E., the Beastie Boys and New Edition among others. I only really started exploring hip hop within the last five or six years, but that exploration has heavily included Run-DMC and the Beasties. I also had a couple Fat Boys tapes back when I was a kid (I’m guessing around the time they got huge, musically speaking, because I vaguely recognized a track or two in the movie from those tapes). That combined with my fairly recent viewing of VH1’s 2009 Hip Hop Honors which focused on Def Jam really made this movie interesting for me. There’s a lot going on in a fairly limited amount of time, but I feel like the director did a good job of balancing the main storyline of Run-DMC thinking of jumping form the Krush Groove label and the B-story of the Fat Boys trying to make it big. If you’re interested in early hip hop at all, this is a must-watch flick. I was also surprised to find out that director Michael Shultz also directed past UM reviewed movie Car Wash and a few movies I didn’t get around to reviewing like the epic Last Dragon (SO awesome) and Cooley High (surprisingly depressing).

New York To LA and Back

LAST ACTION HERO (1993)
The movie that inspired this entire entry starts off with a kid in NYC who loves Arnold Schwarzenegger movies getting sucked into movie-LA and eventually bringing the fictional Jack Slater back into the real world. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I really loved this movie. I remember watching it with my grandparents back around the time it came out on video and thinking it was kind of dumb. But, see, now I’ve seen most of the movies it tries to spoof and had a much better time with it (I’m guessing my grandparents also thought it was dumb, but I bet they never said anything). The kid calls out all kinds of late-80s, early-90s action movie cliches, trying to convince Slater that he’s living in a movie. What I like is that all aspects of the story are interesting and I guess the credit for that goes to world renowned scriptwriter William Goldman (whose book of scripts including Butch & Sundance, Misery, Marathon Man & The Princess Bride is sitting mostly unread on my shelf) who came in and did a rewrite after Arnold insisted on it. Credit should also be given to Die Hard and Predator director John McTiernan who did a great job of mixing the comic and action elements. Sure, the kid’s acting can be a bit thin at times and maybe over-the-top, but I think it works, especially (maybe only) if you’re a fan of these kinds of movies. Oh, it also features a cartoon cat voiced by Danny Devito, how can you go wrong?!

Now On To LA

SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO (1991)
After watching several movies about cops getting new partners (Dragnet, The Rookie, Lethal Weapon (the latter two soon to be reviewed on their own), it’s funny how similar they end up. This one has dandy Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee teaming up to take down crime in LA’s Little Tokyo. Soon enough, something minor leads them to something huge and our heroes have to put a stop to it. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to this one, but I still enjoyed the weird aesthetic of it. See, Lundgren loves Asian culture, while Lee only knows martial arts because his mom made him take lessons and otherwise doesn’t care. When I was a kid I always got this one confused with Big Trouble In Little China. That doesn’t really mean anything, I guess. On another note, Wayne’s World’s Tia Carrere also stars in this movie. On another nother note, the director Mark L. Lester also directed the more-fun Class of 1999 and Commando.

ALIEN NATION (1988)
Hey, guess what? I’ve had a surprising amount of luck watching movies lately. Case in point? Alien Nation. I added a few sci-fi movies including this one a while ago and decided to give this one a shot. I remember seeing the TV series randomly syndicated when I was a kid watching late-night TV but had never seen the movie, which stars James Caan and Chicago Hope’s Mandy Patinkin. Kind of like V, Alien Nation is based around an alien race that is welcomed to earth and begins to be integrated into society, though basic stereotypes still exist. These aliens were bread to be slaves though. Like with Showdown, this movies focuses on cop Caan being saddled with Newcomer (that’s what they call the aliens) Patinkin. As the two learn about each other, they find out about a much bigger plot to addict the Newcomers to drugs and have to put a stop to it. I really liked James Caan in this flick. I guess I haven’t seen him in too many things, but I liked his every man approach. I haven’t seen a ton of his movies, but this made me want to do so. It also made me add the TV series to my Netflix queue, though I was it was on instant watch. I don’t have incredibly high hopes because it got canceled after one season, but it did spawn a number of TV movies. Anyone familiar with them?

So, that ends my cinematic tour of NYC and LA, though I’m sure I’ll see another movie or two set in one of those places before the end of the week. I’ve enjoyed my brief stay and wish I would have taken more pictures, but what are you gonna do?