Riding With The King: Film Edition!

maximum-overdriveAs I mentioned in my Stranger Things-inspired post, I’ve been watching a lot of horror films lately. And you can’t have a mention of that Netflix series without thinking of Mr. Stephen King, now can you? Well, I read and listened to a crazy number of his novels earlier this year (and am still sloooooowly working my way through The Stand) but I’ve also watched a few of the films he’s worked on.

While flipping through movie options on TWC On Demand I saw Maximum Overdrive as an option and immediately turned the film on. Usually, I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about my choices, but this was nearly instantaneous. Continue reading Riding With The King: Film Edition!

Quick Movie Review: Airheads (1994)

airheads When it comes to mid 90s music-infused comedies, the two that were ridiculously influential in my world were Empire Records and Dazed And Confused. Both of those movies showed young me a world that not only involved more complex emotional relationships than I’d personally experienced up to that point, but also reflected my views on how important music could be.

Airheads has some of those themes, but is much more of a madcap comedy. Michael Lehmann (Heathers) directed this movie starring Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscmi and Adam Sandler as members of a band called The Lone Rangers desperate to make it big in the LA music scene. Through a series of misunderstandings and accidents while visiting a local radio station, everyone thinks they’re holding the DJs and other employees hostage. The band decides to roll with it in an effort to get people excited about their music.

Fraser’s Chazz is the true heart of the film. He wants to make great music his way, but it seems like the whole world’s against him. Buscemi’s less emotionally invested, but still into it. Think Mr. Pink with a bass. And then there’s Sandler who’s somewhere between Waterboy and Billy Madison on the Sandler Stupidity Scale. The cast also includes Michael McKean as the shifty station owner, Judd Nelson as the also-shifty record exec, Ernie Hudson and Chris Farley as cops, and DJs Joe Mantegna and David Arquette. Oh and Michael Richards is in here too, mostly crawling around like a worm.

I think the success of this movie for the individual viewer depends on what kind of films you dig. If you’re a fan of the comedies from this time like Dumb & Dumber and Tommy Boy, then I think you’ll be into this one. I wasn’t such a fan so it fell a little flat. They all just seemed a little silly to me, but I get the appeal if that’s your thing. I liked Airheads a bit more than those other movies though because Fraser is just so damn earnest and Mantegna gives it his all. Still, there’s a lot of dumbness going on that took me out of the story immediately following scenes I really enjoyed. Frankly, I winced and rolled me eyes any time Richards appeared because his role, while somewhat important to the story as it gets a real gun in the station, winds up being overly stupid and mostly pointless. In other words his involvement is a long way to go for a pretty basic plot point that could have been done in one scene.

At the end of the day, I felt like there was actually a really solid point behind this film, but the overall goofiness surrounding most of it doesn’t serve that story very well because it’s not much of a leap to feel like Lehmann is just making fun of Fraser’s Chazz, which is too bad because he’s probably the best part of this film.

Drive In Double Feature: Monsters University (2013) & Iron Man 3 (2013)

monsters university We’re pretty lucky to live in an area with not one, but three drive-in movie theaters that are less than an hour away. We usually go to the Warwick, but they’ve had some pretty strange pairings this year. I’m still not sure why they didn’t go with an Iron Man 3/Star Trek Into Darkness combo, but that’s neither here not there. As the parents of a 2-year-old without a regular babysitter, we’re pretty limited in our movie-going options, so we like to have at least one film that Lu will kinda-sorta like. So, when we saw that Hyde Park had Monsters University paired up with Iron Man 3, we figured it’d make for a pretty good outing.

Lu and I actually have never seen Monsters Inc., but we did both see the show at Disney World based on the film. Even so, I’d say we both enjoyed the experience. Lu loves pretty much anything that’s big and bright and I thought the movie was a fun, kid friendly version of the kinds of college flicks I’ve loved since I was a kid myself.

The film follows Mike (Billy Crystal), a young monster who wants to be a scarer who winds up getting in to the number one school for such things, Monsters University. There, the overachieving bookworm meets Sulley (the glorious John Goodman), another scaring student who’s the latest in a long line of scarers. The problem? Mike isn’t actually scary and Sulley relies too much on his family name. The two wind up in the same geeky fraternity which allows them to compete in the Scare Games. Thanks to a deal made with the dean (Helen Mirren!), if they win the Games, she will let them  back into the scare program. From there they have to join forces, become friends and learn to work together.

I like everything from Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds to PCU and Pitch Perfect, all of which either influenced or are somewhat similar to this movie, so it’s right there in my wheelhouse. Even though I haven’t seen the original, I didn’t feel lost when it came to this movie which was nice. I didn’t realize that one of the villains from the original was also in this one, but my wife told me about it on the way home, so I was in on the joke after the fact. I’d say this works extremely well as a stand alone film and a prequel because it does actually make me want to see how these characters act as adults. Time to move that flick to the top of the ol’ Netflix Queue!

iron man 3 Much as I wound up liking Monsters University, Iron Man 3 was the movie I was more excited about. Movies like this which are big on the geek radar can get a little tiresome to folks like myself who cover them on the interwebs. Even though I probably wrote a dozen or two stories about this film for Spinoff, I still enjoyed it and — more surprisingly — was still in the dark on a lot of the major plot points. It helped that I avoided every tweet and conversation about the film after it came out.

So, the story this time around is that Tony Stark’s going down a fairly dark path. He’s pretty disturbed after the events of The Avengers which saw him possibly destroy an entire world/army/dimension. He’s building all kinds of armors, but there’s a more physical threat gunning for him: The Mandarin. An international terrorist played by Ben Kingsley, the Mandarin has plenty of shady people working for him like Guy Pearce, but more importantly, his people have been imbued with Extremis, a techno-organic program that can rewrite a person’s DNA, making them a fire-breathing, superpowered menaces. They blow up Tony’s house which sends him out on his own without a suit to figure out what’s up with the Mandarin and spoilerific things ensue.

I’m not going to get into specific spoilers just yet, but I do want to talk about the ending of the film. Like I said, I went in relatively spoiler free, but I did figure that the extra armors Tony built would come into play during the film and boy do they. It’s so rad seeing Tony running around a giant structure, hopping in and out of different suits and fighting off bad guys. It’s the kind of thing that Joss Whedon did really well with the final battle scene in Avengers and something director Shane Black followed up on pretty well in this film.

Okay now it’s time to get into SPOILERS. Consider yourself WARNED. Man, I really liked what they did with the Mandarin in this movie even though the reveal feels a bit like the one used in Batman Begins with Ra’s al Ghul. In this case it helped that they got such a weighty actor and had him turn in first, a scary performance and second, a hilarious one. Going for the complete personality switch is what sets this apart and makes for a great moment. This was the element of the film I was most surprised hadn’t been spoiled for me yet. Then you’ve got the ending which certainly leaves Tony Stark in an interesting place in the Marvel Studios Universe. He’s still got that big brain of his, but he doesn’t have the ARC reactor which powers his suit. It’s the kind of move that would last for maybe a few years in the comics before something else would pop up and he’d have to, I don’t know, have his heart get blown up again or something. But, since we’re dealing with a film universe — even a shared  one — they get to play with the elements and the players a bit more. The real world side of things is that RDJ might not want to play Iron Man much longer — Tony Stark seems less taxing — and it might make sense within this new world to go a different route and have someone else fill in inside the suit. Of course, since the Extremis now exists in the movie-verse, it’s within reason that Tony will find himself in a situation where he needs to inject himself, this becoming Iron Man Version 2.0. There’s a lot of possibilities and it will be interesting to see where things go with the character from here.

As you can probably tell, I enjoyed the movie. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a fun viewing experience. I also really liked the kid who played Harley and think he needs to be in a kids-dealing-with-craziness movie like The Goonies. At this point, I’m a general fan of the Marvel Studios films. Avengers is rad, I dig the Iron Man flicks and Captain America, Thor was okay and I haven’t seen Incredible Hulk in a long time, but didn’t like it at the time. I’m curious about the Thor and Cap sequels, but am far more interested in Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and the other flicks starring new characters. Let’s see what they can do with some new old characters.

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci Are Awesome!

Damn, these guys are awesome. For those of you who might not know, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are the screenwriters behind Transformers, it’s upcoming sequel (which I’m very excited about), The Legend of Zorro, Mission Impossible III, Fringe, Star Trek and The Island, the last two I watched recently.

Right off the bat, I’ve got to admit that I don’t really remember Legend of Zorro or MI3, so I can’t speak to their ability writing those or for shows like Xena, Hercules, Jack Of All Trades and Alias, but everything else I’ve seen that they’re written has been rad. As you might have noticed, Kurtzman and Orci have a history of working with producer, writer and director extraordinaire J.J. Abrams (Alias, Fringe and Trek). Not shabby company to keep if you ask me.

What I love about these guys is how thoroughly they think through genre stories that, a few years ago, would have probably been tossed to guys who were just looking to get a paycheck. Transformers didn’t have to be a good movie (and many of you might disagree with me on this), but it was. It was also full of crazy fun action scenes. Aside from the incredible stories you see on the screen, I’ve heard a number of interviews with the writing duo thanks to the Creative Screenwriting Podcast. Most recently I listened to the Star Trek one and it blew me away at how well they were able to address and answer logically many of the geek and logic-based questions. A few holes in the movie were filled in the original writing stage, but were later cut and there’s all kinds of other information they have to offer in these interviews. I highly recommend them.

Like I said, I watched The Island (2005) and Star Trek (2009) last week. I’m thinking of going back and listening to the Island podcast interview actually because I’m curious to hear what they have to say about their first original movie, which ended up getting directed by Michael Bay (who I’ve gone on record as loving). The Island is a very cool movie though it seems at first to have a ton of plot holes (how do they go from naive teenage-level beings to pulling off this crazy scheme?). But, the more I think about the various apparent holes, the more I can explain them. Ewan McGregor’s character is growing memories right? So maybe he’s growing a few character traits here and there. It’s these kinds of questions I think would be addressed in the podcast, which I will, now that I think about it, definitely be downloading from iTunes tomorrow.

What I do know just from watching the movie without any background is that it was clearly influenced by some of the classic 70s sci-fi flicks I watched back in January. It was fun watching the movie, kind of knowing what the twist was, but not really knowing how completely it would flip. SPOILER: I knew they were clones, but I didn’t know the details, like that they were living in a complex created by someone who saw Logan’s Run a time or two too many. Even knowing what I knew, I still couldn’t figure how it would be revealed, so that’s a testament to the writing.

I definitely recommend The Island to anyone. It’s got the assumed Michael Bay chases and explosions. Even a car chase with a truck dropping big scary things while being chased by a smaller vehicle (cars in Bad Boys II, train wheels here). Plus you get McGregor, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean and Steve Buscemi who are always good, and Scarlett Johansson who’s at least nice to look at. Plus if you like their later movies, I think it’s always cool to go back and see how they broke into the movie business.

So, from their first to their latest, I have to throw my hat in with just about everyone else in the world and say I really dug Star Trek. I didn’t come out of it feeling like I did when I left Iron Man (PUMPED!), but I still really enjoyed it. It might be because I’m not a Star Trek fan. Before trying to tackle the Original Series this past year, I had seen only a handful of episodes from any of the series’ (that one episode of DS9 where they Tag and Bink their way through the Tribble episode) and the movies starring the original cast. I knew the basics, it’s hard not to when you’ve worked for some of the geekiest magazines in the world (don’t forget, I was in the research department while InQuest was still around). But, even not knowing much, I had no problem watching this flick, which was great, but I still got some of the nods to past stories.

I appreciate the amount of thought that Kurtzman and Orci along with director J.J. Abrams and producer Damon Lindelof put into this epic story, especially the way they made everything you know still make sense while starting this new continuity. Honestly, I really wish this cast would get together and just do a TV series. How cool would that be? Just forget about Heroes (I dislike that show so much that I actually wanted to hate Zachary Quinto as Spock, but he was so damn good I just couldn’t) and fly Simon Pegg and John Cho in between movie roles and get that DONE!

Also, how cool was that drill scene? I started laughing as soon as the guy in the red suit showed up while Sulu and Kirk were wearing different colors. Em asked me what I was laughing at and I whispered “That guy’s gonna die.” She asked me how I knew and I told her just to watch and, man, they did NOT disappoint with that moment. Even better, though, was how Sulu and Kirk handled themselves given a crappy situation. I love how Chris Pine perfectly embodies that “never say die no matter how bad things look” mentality. Obviously, I’d like to see everyone return for a sequel, but I really hope Pine does a superhero movie. He could do justice to a bunch of heroes.

So, next up from Kurtzman and Orci will be Transformers: Rise of the Fallen and the last two episodes of Fringe that I missed and I’m pretty psyched about both.

Weekend Roundup

2008-11-10
5:12:26 pm

Wow, what a weekend. It was kind of busy with a wedding and both my football teams losing, but I was also able to squeeze in far more movies than I should have.

On Friday, Em went to bed early, so I ran up to Blockbuster and did a trade in for a double feature of Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi (1992) and Desperado (1995). I’d seen Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico before, but had never seen the original piece of the Mexico Trilogy, plus I’m a sucked for a 2-for1 and traded it in. I did not know that Mariachi is completely in Spanish and it seems as though the version I had rented didn’t have an English dub, but it did have an awesome commentary by Rodriguez. So I listened to that and put subtitles on and enjoyed the heck out of myself. Turns out he made the movie for $7,000 and most of that cost went towards film. He worked with mostly no crew and local people who’d never acted before. And while I can’t understand what they’re saying on screen, they really seemed natural. Rodriguez gives a play by play of how he did everything on screen which is super informative and then, in the special features, offers up a segment called “10 Minute Film School” showcasing how he did some of the more complex stunts and basic stuff like shooting scenes with editing in mind. I’ve never been to film school, but I feel like I got a heck of an education from just listening to the commentary. It was worth the rental for the feeling of “heck, I can do this too.” Who wants to make a movie with me?

So, I was pretty hyped up after Mariachi and put Desperado on immediately after. It definitely looks and feels like a different animal with it’s slicker look, bigger actors and crazier action sequences, but Rodriguez maintains the feel of the original which is impressive. This time Antonio Banderas plays El Mariachi and Salma Hayek plays his love interest. You’ve also got Quentin Tarantino, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi and Danny Trejo (my personal favorite interviewee so far). What stuck in my head from my previous viewing of Desperado was how bad ass it was. And that still holds up as Banderas leaps around shooting dudes from all kinds of awesome camera angles. I also love how cool the guitar case full of weapons is. It’s like Rodney Dangerfield’s golf bag from Caddyshack 2! Anyway, I also really dug the final scene where Mariachi calls in his boys who also have guitar cases concealing weapons (machine guns and a rocket launcher!). It’s an awesome revenge story with tons of action and plenty of bad ass characters walking around looking bad ass, but none as bad ass as Mariachi. BAM!

After that I was pretty exhausted (it was 3AM), so I went to bed. The next day Em took a nap in the afternoon and I started tinkering with my VCR and actually got the dumb thing to start working again which meant I could watch some of the tapes I’ve picked up at work and garage sales lately. So I popped Don’t Answer the Phone (1980) on. It wasn’t very good. The story follows a serial killer as he calls in to a radio psychologist and taunts her. The video tape quality added to the atmosphere of the film, but it was overall just kind of uncomfortable and I didn’t even both finishing it. What I did find interesting was the fact that we as the audience spent a good deal of time with the killer even when he wasn’t killing. We see him walking along the street and calling into the radio show. I’ve often thought it would be interesting to see a slasher movie done like this, where you really get to see things from the killer’s perspective. If Don’t Answer the Phone is any indicator, maybe it’s not such a good idea.

After giving up on that flick, I still had a little more time, so I popped in F/X2 (1991), which is a tape I grabbed from Em’s parents when they were cleaning out all the tapes. They used to own a video store back in the day, so I can only assume it’s a leftover from those days (how I wish I was around when they were getting rid of their boxes and boxes of movies!). I actually thought F/X2 was a horror movie, so I was confused when I couldn’t find it in my Creature Features book. It turns out that it’s more of an action thriller than a horror movie, though. Bryan Brown (Cocktail!) stars as a Hollywood effects man who gave up the game after the events of the first movie (which I haven’t seen). This time, the woman he’s dating’s ex husband asks him to help out with a case (making him look like a woman), but it turns out that the ex gets killed and Bryan stumbles upon a much bigger plot involving cops killing cops, mobsters and the Vatican. Bryan calls in his buddy from the previous flick Brian Dennehy and now they’re on the case. It’s a fairly standard plot from here, but what I really liked about the movie is how Brown uses his crazy special effects talents to go after the bad guys. At one point, a dude breaks into his house to kill him, but Brown’s able to slip into this motion control suit that coincides with a robot clown, so anything Brown does, the clown does. Then there’s this amazingly hilarious fight scene with Brown and the clown vs. the assassin. There’s also all kinds of craziness at the end. Definitely worth checking out if you want to see the kind of movie that will never get made nowadays, one with a sense of humor about itself, but also takes itself seriously.

The aforementioned wedding interrupted my movie watching (it’s okay, I forgive them). On Sunday, I caught part of Bad Boys II (2003) on TV and you know what? That movie’s awesome. I think Michael Bay gets a bad rap. I don’t know much about the guy aside from what he puts on the screen, but I definitely appreciate his love of big crazy movies with lots of action and explosions. Some people call him a hack for that, but I don’t buy it. I’ve liked Armageddon, The Rock, Bad Boys I and II (though definitely II better) and Transformers. I haven’t seen The Island yet and I didn’t really like Pearl Harbor at the time, but would definitely give it another shot. I didn’t get to see the entirety of BBII (I’ve seen it before though) and man, there are some awesome scenes in there. The 360 degree scene of Will Smith on one side of a room and dudes with machine guns on the other. The chase scene where the bad guys throw cars at them. You can’t beat that kind of stuff. And, I didn’t get to see it this time, but the absolute disregard for human life while driving through Cuban homes! This is what movies used to be like back in the 70s and 80s and it’s awesome to see that again. (NOTE: I in no way support the ACTUAL disregard of human life in Cuba, just in the movies!) Also, I forgot how cool Will Smith can be when he wants to (and when the camera angels make him look so). There were a lot of fun similarities between how Rodriguez shot Banderas and how Bay shot Smith. Fun stuff.

Finally, I ended my weekend movie watching with the original When A Stranger Calls (1979). I’ve got a bit of a history with the remake. My first year here in New York, before I got married, I didn’t really have a lot going on, so on my birthday Rickey, Ben and I (sorry if I forgot anyone else, my memory’s fuzzy at best) I thought it would be awesome to go see a horror movie (Em was still in New Hampshire). WASC had just come out and Rickey and I had just seen the main girl, Camilla Belle, in Chumscrubber and had school boy crushes on her so it seemed like a great idea. It was not and I still get reminded of how bad of a movie it was. Soon after, I looked the original up in Creature Features to find out that the original actually split it’s time between the babysitter getting terrorized story and then a seven years later story when the killer breaks out of an asylum. No wonder it felt like it was way too drawn out.

So, last night I finally watched the original and was even more surprised to find out that the babysitter portion only takes up about 15 minutes of screen time! Oh remake people, you’re so crazy. Anyway, it’s a pretty effective movie, the babysitter stuff in the beginning is definitely creepy and spawned the line “The call is coming from inside the house.” You’ve also got a pretty creepy killer, he killed the kids she was babysitting in their bedrooms with his bare hands while she was downstairs. After the 7 year jump we end up splitting our time between the escaped killer as he wanders around New York trying to hit on (or kill?) some woman and the private detective who’s on his trail. Here’s another movie where we get to see things from the killer’s perspective for a significant part of the movie. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to feel sorry for him or what, which adds to my not loving this movie, but eventually he finds the babysitter, who now has two kids and a husband and starts screwing with her again. There are some creepy moments and the killer definitely walks the line between total creep and somewhat not-hateable. It’s not a great movie, but definitely not as bad as the remake, though this kind of makes me want to watch it again. Somebody stop me…