This week I find myself captivated by a Japanese genre from the 60s, a sitcom set in the 70s and a podcast that spans all decades to bring listeners a variety of must-see films. That’s right, this week I’m obsessed with tokusatsu, That 70s Show and the Pure Cinema Podcast! Continue reading My Favorite Things This Week: Tokusatsu, That 70s Show & Pure Cinema
I haven’t been blogging too much lately as regular readers can tell. I’m not sure why that is. Sure, I’m busy with a new gig, but I also don’t have the same burning desire to write down my thoughts about everything I see, hear or read. But, I do still love having this page here as my little corner of the internet extolling the virtues of the things I love. It also works as a pretty handy external memory because mine is getting worse and worse and these are some stories I want to remember.
A few weeks back I realized that I’ve moved out of my “watching people kill or get killed” phase and wanted to move into some more emotional offerings. I’ll never stop loving action and horror movies and I do feel like they are a great distraction when you’re already feeling incredibly bogged down by real-life emotional matters, but once things equalize a bit, it’s nice to see if the ol’ heart can take on a movie meant to do more than thrill and spill blood.
So, with that feeling in mind, I went looking around the Netflix queue to see what was available and landed on The Giant Mechanical Man. I only knew about this one because I’m a big fan of Jenna Fischer from The Office and saw her tweet about it. The film about a pair of wayward souls who discover each other in Detroit also stars Chris Messina of The Wendy Project fame (another beloved show in our house), Malin Akerman and Topher Grace. Fischer’s husband Lee Kirk wrote and directed the film.
The movie follows Fischer, an awkward adult who doesn’t quite know what she wants to do with her life and Messina’s title character who dresses up in a giant suit, paints on makeup and walks on stilts as a piece of performance art. The two eventually find each other while working at a zoo to make some scratch and develop a genuine relationship in a world seemingly filled with plastic, surface-y characters played by Akerman, Grace and Harry Crane (er, Rich Sommer).
For me, the cast comes together really well to tell this story so concerned with authenticity, Art and honesty. I also really appreciate that the movie was shot in and around Detroit. I grew up less than an hour away from the city and while it wasn’t a regular destination, I have a soft spot in my heart for it, especially when it’s treated as more than just a place where awful things happen. The fact that this true love grew there was a nice part of the story that just struck me. I’m glad I made this one of the first more emotional movies I watched this year.
That feeling of opening-up has also spread into my comic reading. The last time I went to the library I found a different section of trades in the sci-fi section (the other two are in YA and kids) and saw that they had Michael Cho’s Shoplifter. I immediately snatched it up because I’ve been following Cho on Twitter for years now, love his style and had been wanting to check this book out since I saw him posting about it.
The graphic novel — a sequential story told all in one volume as opposed to the monthly comic book format everyone’s familiar with — stars Corinna Park, a woman in her mid-to-late 20s working for an advertising agency. But, that’s not what she wants to do with her life. She wants to be a writer. This entry level job wound up taking off, sucking her focus and making her kind of hate her life a little bit, what life there is to hate. The title refers to her not-too-often habit of stealing a magazine while buying other goods at a corner store near her house. After meeting a guy she likes, she starts thinking about making a huge change in her life, though even that doesn’t quite shake out like intended.
I really enjoyed this story. The story itself is not one unlike the kind you see at the heart of a lot of indie movies like Giant Mechanical Man or The Lifeguard, the idea of not knowing what the hell you’re going to do that swirls around creative types in all mediums. Cho literally adds his own style to it by using a visual look that uses black, white and pink (instead of gray). Pink might seem a bit one note for a lot of people, but it works as well during the day as it does at night and adds a kind of frosting quality to what Corrina’s going through. This isn’t real life for her, it’s just the gussied up version she’s living for now until she figures out the real thing she wants to do.
As a wannabe writer myself, I can’t help but instantly fall for Shoplifter like I have so many stories like it in the past. I am super on board for anything else Michael Cho wants to write and draw about. His is a voice I can relate to and appreciate.
The Beach (2000) is one of those movies that I remember coming out, but don’t remember hearing much about. For some reason I thought it had a sci-fi element to it, but instead it’s about a secret island split between a bunch of hippie pot farmers and some bad ass dudes with guns. Leonardo DiCaprio finds out about the island and sneaks his way in where he soon becomes part of the gang. It’s kind of an interesting idea that gets really weird towards the end.
See, Leo left a map with someone and that’s a problem because the guys with guns don’t want anymore people to join the hippies. The boss lady finds out about this and stations Leo on a ledge so he can watch for newcomers. While doing this, Leo loses his damn mind.
The problem isn’t so much in the story or the turn it takes at the end, but in how long the movie goes in one direction showing how life on the island is and THEN switches to this descent into madness kind of thing. The meandering part is kind of fun to look at as you get interested in how life on the island works, but then the tone and mood shift and it’s almost like you’re watching another movie set in the same world as the first. At the end of the day, the performances are solid and Leo does well with an uneven script, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend checking The Beach out if you haven’t already seen it.
We’ve all got types of movies and stories that we’re suckers for and Glory Daze (1995) fits like three of my preferred subgenres. First off it’s got Ben Affleck, an actor I seem to like no matter what he’s in. Second, it’s an “end of college” movie which I’ve been a sucker for since I saw PCU and Animal House. And finally, it’s a 90s movie about the kind of existential crises Gen Xers had when looking at their future in the real world.
Affleck plays a tormented art student who lives with a group of his friends that include Sam Rockwell and French Stewart in a party house. Most of them are on the verge of graduation, but Affleck doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life and tries convincing his friends to stay on for one more year in the house to party and put off joining the real world.
Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies, but I think it’s actually pretty good. Affleck hits a lot of the same notes that he would go on to hit in Chasing Amy (the movies actually shares some similar themes and beats at times) and the movie is funny, but there is a heart in it that I found appealing. It’s about fear of the unknown, discovering the truth of the world and trying to make the best of a bad situation. Sure, it’s formulaic at times, but it reminds me of a lot of the movies I liked in my high school days.
As I said in today’s Ad It Up, I know I saw and enjoyed the first House movie, but I don’t actually remember much about it. I think it had a dude fighting monsters in another dimension after opening a door in his house. House II: The Second Story (1986) one is about a guy moving into his treasure hunting great grandfather’s house that’s decked out in Incan stuff, finding his undead grandfather and trying to keep a crystal skull out of the hands of some demons. Or something.
The poster, which is awesome, might make the movie seem like a creepy horror movie, but it really feels like a campy family friendly romp. The main guy and his friend just kind of run around with a zombie as different rooms in their house turn into crazy locales.
The film also has a pretty fantastic cameo by John Ratzenberger as a repairman who doesn’t bat an eye when an Incan warrior tries to kill him and also fights it off like a boss. Also, there’s a tiny green dog-bug thing that I wish was my pet.
It’s so, so goofy, but if you like that kind of thing, do yourself a favor and check out House II on Netflix Instant.
When I saw trailers for the 80s-set Take Me Home Tonight (2011), I figured it would be your average throwback with lots jokes that are only funny if you’re living in 2011 and the kind of attitude that pokes more fun than pays homage. Thankfully that’s not the case. There are only a few of those anachronistic-style jokes, but for the most part, it’s a coming-of-age, finding-yourself story that just so happens to be set in the late 80s. They don’t even seem to look down on the decade that gave us big hair, strange clothes and rolled up jacket sleeves. Those things are in the movie, but they’re not the focus. It’d be dishonest if they weren’t there.
I was also happy with how some of the usual tropes of this kind of “telling my high school sweetheart I like her story” were handled. You’ve got Topher Grace telling a lie after meeting the girl of his dreams that comes back to bite him in the ass. But, he actually has a really good argument for why he lied. It’s an honest conversation that you rarely see handled so well in this kind of thing.
Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories and really liked the performances by Grace (who I’ve liked since That 70s Show), Anna Faris who I didn’t even recognize with brown hair at first, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt and Michael Biehn. Add in a setting that’s not usually handled this way and I’m in. Give it a look.
I don’t read a lot of movie reviews because I have a pretty good idea of what I do and don’t like. The only real reviews I pay attention to are the ones done on the Totally Rad Show podcast because I usually sync up with at least one of those dudes. When they reviewed Predators when it came off, I don’t think they were very happy with the movie. I remember Jeff Cannata being disappointed and noting that the setting used in the film wasn’t really used as well as it could have been. I also had some friends who saw it and weren’t all that enthusiastic, but I was still hopeful. Not hopeful enough to actually go see the movie in theaters, but hopeful enough to move it to the top of my Netflix Queue when it came out on DVD. I finally got around to watching the movie and I’ve got to say, I kind of loved it.
I think it helped that I haven’t watched another Predator movie in a while. I love the first one and even the second one, but was woefully disappointed by the two Alien Vs. Predator movies like many fellow fans. So, while I could appreciate a lot of the notes that this movie picked up from the previous ones (giant Gatling gun, woman surviving, traps, etc.) I wasn’t constantly distracted with thoughts of “they lifted that whole thing from FILL IN THE BLANK PREDATOR MOVIE.”
However, I did agree with Cannata’s assessment for at least the first 30 minutes of the movie, basically until the horned hound-pig things showed up. See, the basis of the film is that some Predators, instead of heading to a species’ home planet to hunt, will grab some prey and bring it back to a jungle world and hunt them there, like a game preserve. Our heroes who are actually all villains in the real world (predators themselves as one character points out) got abducted and then parachuted onto the planet. This time around they banded together to try and figure what the heck was going on. It takes almost exactly a half hour for them to guess what we already know, but that time is spent getting to know the characters to some extent and also hitting a few classic notes that I found really appealing like when they accidentally spring a dead soldier’s traps. I liked that scene because it basically tells the audience, “Hey, that’s not how this one is going to end.” After that there’s a lot of fights with Predators and even between Predators and a few twists and turns along the way to keep things interesting but without getting too bogged down including the appearance of Laurence Fishburne as a character who had been surviving on the planet for many seasons and who had lost his damn mind.
I liked the movie overall even though it’s clearly not perfect. The jungle could have been a lot more alien, maybe not Avatar-levels of weirdness, but maybe a few more indigenous dangers. I also was unclear on a few of the alien relationships like the non-Predator thing that chased Topher Grace, which was apparently based on the original design for the Predators (nice touch, by the way). One of the characters thought they were in cages or something. I also wasn’t clear on why the one Predator was tied up. I’m sure some of this information was given but I missed it because I was working.
Aside from a few small quibbles though, I thought the movie was a ton of fun and delivered everything I wanted: several Predators hunting humans with different destructive skill sets and same rad stand-offs between them. I really dug the casting. Adrien Brody surprised me as the hero even if his gruff voice got a little annoying after a while (this from a guy who didn’t even notice how ridiculous Christian Bale’s Batman voice was), but he does a good job of being cunning and caring just enough about his fellow castaways. I love Danny Trejo so it was fun to see him. Fishburne did a good job in his scenes. I liked Topher Grace a lot, mostly because I’m a big That 70s Show fan and the character he plays in this might as well have been a time traveling version of that Eric Forman (well, until the end). I didn’t really recognize the rest of the cast, but I thought they all played their roles well.
And now, a potentially spoilery list of moments in the movie that I loved. When the girl almost shoots herself in the head instead of letting a monster eat her. The intensity of the dead soldier’s trap. The sword fight between the Yakuza dude and the Predator. The reveal that Grace’s character is actually a serial killer, which makes all kinds of sense because why would the Predators snatch a doctor? Brody’s character using fire to camouflage himself when fighting the Predator at the end. That same Predator’s mask and face were both awesome. The projectile Predator blade. A Predator vs. Predator fight. Two beheadings BOTH PREDATORS. And, finally, the not really an ending ending that leaves things open for a sequel.
The movie was so fun I kept getting lost in it when I should have been working. I especially liked that writer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal seemed to have a lot of respect for the Predator mythos, but didn’t seem married to it. They worked in a new way for them to hunt and through Fishburne’s character tried explaining how that all works, though I’d have to watch again to really catch it. The characters themselves might not have been the most fleshed out in the world, but they don’t necessarily die in the order you expect them to either (who would have expected the prisoner with a knife, the Yakuza with a handgun and the doctor with no weapons would live that long?). Combine all that with my favorite movie aliens, lots of action and A SWORD FIGHT WITH A PREDATOR and I’m a happy camper.
Here’s my pitch for a sequel if anyone is interested. We pick back up with Brody’s character who has done his best to salvage the weapons that Fishburne’s character had found. While he arms himself with weapons from all ages (guns don’t really seem to work well, though explosives do) we get a look at who each of the weapons belonged to and how they fared against the Predators. Really, I just want to see Samurais, Ninjas, Vikings and maybe some weird other aliens fighting Predators on the big screen. And yes, I would actually go see the sequel in the theaters if these guys got tasked to make another one, though I’m not sure how likely that will be because guys like me didn’t see it in theaters the first time around. A vicious circle indeed.