Wednesday, May 26, 2010

#10: The Warriors, or, what is a cult movie anyway?

I've fallen a good bit behind. Sorry to those who read this regularly, I didn't know this would be entertaining for anyone. Thanks for reading! Ooookay, time to catch up. It's not that I've been watching movies and forgetting to write about them, I just haven't been watching movies.

The Warriors. Where to begin.

Let's start by figuring out what a cult movie is, because The Warriors is definitely one of those. What connects this movie with the Evil Dead series, or Office Space, or Night of the Living Dead, or Eraserhead (or any David Lynch movie, really)? There's the devoted fanbase, yes, but why do cult movies affect their fans in ways that other movies don't? It's their eccentricity. These films are strange, they're weird, they do things other films wouldn't dare, and they enjoy their own version of success.Even films that gain a more mainstream popularity still aren't exactly normal. Office Space still has a character obsessed with his stapler to the point of burning down a building, it still has very anti-establishment themes, and if a movie like it came out today, like Extract, it still wouldn't enjoy the kind of box office revenue that comedies like Night at the Museum or Valentine's Day do.

So we know that cult films are weird and loved by a small but very loyal group of people. What we also know from watching The Warriors is that there is another camp of people that hate it as much as the first group love it. Cult films are polarizing, perhaps more so than any other film. I've seen bad movies, like Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel or John Tucker Must Die, but if given the choice between those and Donnie Darko or Napoleon Dynamite, it would not be an easy decision to make. The latter two are better movies, but I hate them in a different, more powerful way.

In The Warriors, a gang leader calls for peace among all the gangs in New York City, in an attempt to unite them all and take control of the city. But when one gang refuses and assassinates him, the Warriors are blamed and forced to fight their way across the city back to their turf. It's a cult movie on all fronts. All the gangs wear costumes, not just gang colors, so we have groups like the Baseball Furies, who put on baseball uniforms and paint their faces like they're in a circus rendition of Braveheart, or the Turnbull AC's, who all have matching denim outfits and shaved heads. Then there's the dialogue and music, which is trapped in the 70's, at times painfully so. The plot itself doesn't go anywhere we don't expect it to, but the strength of this movie, and on all cult movies when we get right down to it, is the characters. The Warriors are not like gang members in other movies, just the way that Peter Gibbons isn't like other office workers. They have their own charm to them, the kind of charm that makes people dress up like them for Halloween and get tattoos in honor of them.

I did like it for what it is. It's hard to recommend because of its cult nature, but it's worth a try. It doesn't demand much from its audience, and if they don't demand much of it, everything will go smoothly.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May 9: Moon

Before I begin, I should warn that there are spoilers here. To summarize the story down to a point where there would be none is basically just the first fifteen minutes: There's a guy on the moon for three years, under contract from a big corporation to mine Helium 3, which is solving all the world's energy problems. He has a robot friend. Now, I don't think that's much of a summary, especially since even the trailer gives more away, but I'm very sensitive about things being spoiled for me, and I wouldn't want anyone giving away anything more than that if I hadn't seen it. So there will be a section that mentions more of the story, clearly marked and towards the end. Be careful where you read. I have also seen it several times before, so I've had time to go crazy about it.

I love this movie. Let me explain.

Movies with small casts are great. There are less characters to keep track of, which is good for audiences because no one gets confused, but it's also good for writers, because fewer characters means fewer connections and relationships to make, as well as allowing for both more and better interactions between characters, letting them develop the way they should. Moon has two characters, three if you count the robot.

Movies with few locations are great. Again, there is less to keep track of, and the less time characters spend going from one place to another, the more time they have to develop. Developing characters is paramount. Moon has two locations: in the base, and out of the base.

Science fiction movies are great. They are always good at making solid political, religious, or social commentaries, because they allow us to examine ourselves on a subconscious level. Rather than look at the Iraq war directly, we have Battlestar Galactica; 9/11 is substituted with Cloverfield; South Africa under apartheid becomes District 9. While science fiction movies are not intentionally based on events (with the probable exception of D-9), they do have undeniable parallels.

Spoilers below.

Moon does the same, posing questions about not just the ethics of cloning, but the moral issues of how we deal with clones. Can we justify making people? Do we overstep our bounds and challenge nature by cloning cells for medicine, or organs for transplants? Beyond science, how do we deal with clones? Should they receive the same rights as people born naturally, or is it socially acceptable, if morally reprehensible, to exploit them? We certainly feel for the two clones, especially the one whose contract is almost up. One of the most devastating scenes has him talking to his daughter, finding out his wife is dead, and crying, saying, "I want to go home," when there is no home for him to go to. He was revived with the memories of a life he never had. What's sadder still is imagining the clones before him not even knowing what he knows; they all climbed into that insta-cremate machine, expecting to return home, only to be killed. They knew only a piece of Sam Bell's life, and could not live any more.

End spoilers.

I can say without hesitation that this is my favorite science fiction movie. As much as I like Empire Strikes Back, Moon has so much more heart in it. So much care was put into it, every shot was poured over, and everything fits perfectly. I cannot say enough good about it. It has a solid place in my top five, sitting at number two right under Fellowship of the Ring. And with a little more time, it might take number one.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

May 8: Raising Arizona

Weird. Almost too much so.

I don't hate Nicholas Cage, and I actually rather like the Coen Brothers, but if this is supposed to be one of their best movies, I really missed something. It's about a convict who marries a cop, can't conceive a child, and so steals one from a rich couple who recently found themselves with quintuplets. The convict's buddies from jail break out and start dragging him back into his convenience store robbing ways, and then some shit happens, and his friends steal the baby to get the ransom. I think.

Perhaps what bugged me so much was the shots. It's a subtle thing, but there are a lot of strange angles and placement of characters and objects in the frame. It didn't age well, that much is for sure.

Though I didn't like it all that much, it is still definitely a Coen Brothers movie. They have a way of focusing on one object, like a person (this, Fargo), or a case full of money (No Country for Old Men) or a CD of real shit, the raw intelligence (Burn After Reading), that makes the story very easy to follow. I did like it because of that, but it was just far too strange. I mean, it's not Eraserhead, but it's too odd for its own good.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

May 7: Pandorum

Okay, so I said that I wished there were more fairy tale movies, because they're always pretty and uncomplicated and fun to watch. But what I really wish for is more horror movies in space. But, you know, better than Jason X.

The thing that makes Pandorum awesome, and other movies like it (Event Horizon, Sunshine) is the element of hopelessness. The crew is trapped on their ship, who knows how far from where they started, and no one is coming to rescue them. One of them compares the ship to a floating coffin, a metaphor that is eerily accurate. There are a whole lot of monsters on board with them, and it's quickly established how the choice between fight or flight for the crew isn't a choice at all.

The first half is much more sci-fi/thriller, with Ben Foster crawling around in vents, running around dark hallways with only a flashlight, and having a few very close encounters with the creatures. The movie takes a bit of a stumble when it hits the second half and focuses more on the action, but that's okay. The rest is fucking cool.

Of course, there's also mention of space crazy, which adds more creepiness. Nothing I saw makes me want to go into space any less though.

Friday, May 7, 2010

May 6: Iron Man 2

After Christoper Nolan's Batman movies (Batmen?), Iron Man is the best superhero franchise there is. The first two X-Men were great, but Brett Ratner shit out the third one, to everyone's surprise, and Raimi did the same with the third Spiderman, which wasn't entirely his fault. Except for the jazz scene. That one was him.

Iron Man 2 is definitely a sequel though. Obviously, there's that number at the end of the title, but it does sequels do: make things darker. I blame it on Empire Strikes Back, but I guess it makes sense if you take the whole trilogy as one story. The first movie sets everything up, the second puts the characters through a bunch of challenges, and the third is their redemption. I know Iron Man isn't supposed to be a trilogy, but I would not be surprised to see a third one after the Avengers movie is out. More on that in a bit.

When I say that Iron Man 2 is darker, I don't mean Nolan dark (man it's hard not to draw comparisons to Batman). Since this is a new movie, I won't go into detail, but I will say things don't always go Tony Stark's way. There are still some very funny parts, but Stark definitely has a lot more to deal with, and some of it he doesn't handle as smoothly as he did in the last installment. I will say that Whiplash was a really lame villain. I'm not even sure he was supposed to be the main bad guy, maybe it was Sam Rockwell, who was super awesome as Justin Hammer.

Back to the Avengers stuff. Samuel L. Jackson appears before the end credits this time, and there's a lot more S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff going on. Maybe my favorite part of the movie was the sense of shifting the story did from Tony Stark as just Iron Man to Tony Stark and his role as an Avenger. There was a lot more big picture stuff going on, and as a result, I cannot wait for the Thor and Avengers movies.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

May 5: Defendor

I thought a movie where Woody Harrelson dressed up like a superhero and fought "Captain Industry" would be a pretty popular, only it didn't get much of a theatrical release. Which is a shame, because it's great. The trailer presents it as a comedy, which it definitely is for the first third and little bits of the other two. He tells Kat Dennings to "make like a rocket and take off," his weapons of choice are marbles and jars of angry wasps, and he has a VCR strapped to his back; the premise is so silly, we're caught off guard when things turn more serious.

It turns out Harrelson's character is retarded. Not "heavy-handed substitute for lame" retarded, but actually, Forrest Gump retarded. He has that Gump charm as well, except that this movie isn't total shit. A better comparison to both character and movie would be Lars and the Real Girl.

In that, we get the same comedy feel for the first part, when Ryan Gosling buys a RealDoll, named Bianca, and treats it like his girlfriend. But when he takes Bianca to a work party, we expect everyone to ridicule him; instead, they play along, not mockingly, but wholehearted and genuinely. Suddenly, we're not laughing at how ridiculous it is, and when Lars's "girlfriend" falls ill, we're worried. Though we know that it's just Lars imagining things, probably because he's falling for one of his co-workers and is perhaps sub-consciously choosing her over Bianca, we've been with Lars for all of it, and we care about him, and we might even care about Bianca.

That's what happens with Defendor. Once we discover his mental incapabilities, we don't root for him because it's funny when he spits out terrible one-liners in a deep pitched Batman voice, we root for him because he honestly believes that he can stop Captain Industry from drug and sex trafficking. He believes that the whole drug dealing world is run by one man, and that with him gone, kids won't have to worry about their mothers being taken away by drugs and prostitution.

In all honesty, it's Harrelson that drives the whole movie. I'm still not convinced Kat Dennings is any good, and the scenes without Harrelson don't really go anywhere. I think it's just a matter of time before he wins a major award for one of his movies.

Note: I do not count MTV's 1993 "Best Kiss Award" as major.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 4: Hard Boiled

I know of John Woo, I just haven't seen any of his movies except Mission Impossible 2, and I don't think that counts.

I'm also not the biggest fan of action movies. I don't know if it's because I haven't seen very many (no Die Hard movies, and the only Schwarzenegger movie I've seen more than once is Jingle All The Way) or because I don't like that the stunts are the best things they have going for them.

That's all filler. Basically, I liked watching the action sequences because the explosions were cool and the stunts were badass, and during the parts between the action sequences I looked at lolcats and went on Facebook because it got boring.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 3: The Fall

I'm now in the part of my Netflix queue that has movies that were added when I first set it up a year and a half ago, where none of the plot synopses sound good and I wonder why I bothered getting them. The synopsis for this one reads, "Set in the 1920s, director Tarsem Singh's visually lush drama stars Lee Pace as paralyzed movie stuntman Roy Walker, who bonds with an imaginative 5-year-old named Alexandria (Cantinca Untaru) as they convalesce together in a Los Angeles infirmary. To coax the girl into procuring the cache of morphine he wants from the hospital pharmacy, the suicidal Roy regales Alexandria with an elaborate fantasy about larger-than-life heroes."

So basically, it sounds like a period piece about a suicidal guy who uses a kid to get him the drugs he needs to kill himself. Not terribly interesting. The little bit at the end about the story he tells her is the most important part, because that's really what the best parts of the movie are.

We're always jumping from Roy's bedside reality to the fantasy reality, and the two worlds are set so far apart from each other stylistically that, even though the jumps can be sudden, there's never any overlap between them. The hospital is pretty bland in a "everything is a different shade of gray" sort of way. Nothing stands out from anything else, and even the shots aren't anything out of the ordinary. The fantasy world though is beautiful. Bright, vivid colors are everywhere, locales are exotic and dramatic, and the characters in the fantasy, their costumes especially, are unreal. Sometimes the characters are little figures on the horizon, and other times their faces take up the whole screen. The music rises and falls, but never goes completely silent, and every action is deliberate and dramatic, like it was being performed on stage.

It makes me wish there were more movies that felt like fairy tales. Pan's Labyrinth, Stardust, and this all have the feel of bedtime stories; innocent good fighting absolute evil. The heroes do nothing that we don't cheer for, and we never feel sympathy for the villains. Movies like this are great not just because they're stories are straight to the point, but because the nature of the story requires them to be shot in such a way that everything is separate from reality, and is visually gorgeous as a result. Definitely one of the prettiest movies I've seen.

Monday, May 3, 2010

May 2: Beetlejuice/ThanksKilling

Two movies today, sort of. When I got home I caught the last half of Beetlejuice, which I haven't seen in forever. This is proof that Tim Burton was good once. It didn't hold up very well, but I still love it.

To make up for that, I decided to watch ThanksKilling. It's only 66 minutes long, and I went from thinking it would be a campy B-movie, to a weird comedy/horror hybrid, to a student movie that was supposed to be a comedy from the start. I took some notes while it played, and they eventually degraded into angry rants at the characters. So instead of impressions, I have those to show you. Hopefully they're enough to make you watch it, because it's actually a pretty fun movie. It's about a murderous, filthy turkey, how could it not be entertaining.

-Woah, that's a boob
-That pilgrim woman is missing a lot of her shirt. Mostly the chest area
-So far, everything a horror movie needs to be. Tits and murder
-Okay, so that was a JonBenet Ramsey joke "Her legs are harder to close than the JonBenet Ramsey case"
-Sort of cool animation sequence
-Turkeys see in purple
-Bestiality leads to grand theft auto
-This feels like a student's final project that somehow got to Netflix
-Same joke about jonbenet ramsey case and slutty girl's legs, apparently unintentional, everyone reacted the exact same way as the first time she told it
-Reaction to parents being murdered surprisingly mild
-More bestiality, "You just got stuffed!"
-More sex scenes with the turkey than with the people
-Yes, we must stop the cock blocking turkey
-This has to be a comedy. It just has to be.
-I don't know Billy, you were just eating french fries for that whole montage.
-"Gobble gobble, motherfucker."
-Seriously, student movie. Billy's whole death sequence is way too goofy.
-Why is the turkey making a salad.
-Hermit shoots him into a dumpster full of radioactive waste, another fifteen minutes of runtime confirmed
-"I may have lost my parents, but I gained a girlfriend."
-Oh, the hermit also did the title music. How about that.

I'd say it's worth the hour it takes to watch. Really, really stupid, but very fun. Back tomorrow with legitimate movies!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May 1: Boogie Nights

What a feel good movie to start things off. Cocaine, suicide, losing children in divorce settlements, prison for pedophilia, and armed robbery gone terribly wrong. The only part of this movie I had seen before was the opening tracking shot, and since it's very oh-yeah-seventies-and-disco I just assumed the rest of the movie would be like that, only with more sex scenes.

And the first half is very much like that. Mark Wahlberg gets a blowjob from Heather Graham, has sex with her on the couch while Burt Reynolds watches, and things are rolling along. Even William H. Macy's character, whose wife has a thing for sleeping nonchalantly with other men, doesn't seem like he's in all that bad a spot. It's comical the way she deals with him, and how he is so non-confrontational.

Then that familiar story arc comes in, where the cast is so successful that there's nowhere to go but down. This was actually obnoxious to watch because it takes so long to happen. We know things are going south the moment Wahlberg snorts coke at the New Year's party, but for the next 45 minutes, we see each group of characters' luck change for the worse. It was nice that they were all edited together such that we only saw a few minutes of each story before jumping to another, but it seemed so Goodfellas or Casino (Scorsese in general, really) that I wish it would have happened faster.

I will say that I loved the tracking shots. There are shots like these in other movies where it feels like the director is just showing off (Children of Men, that's you), but they're so simple here. Burt Reynolds walking through a house is not a complicated sequence; an unedited shot following him isn't distracting - if anything, it brings us in more - but a ten minute action sequence of Clive Owen running through a rioting city, into a crowded apartment building that's under siege by soldiers and tanks, and making his way back out, is so much more to take in.

Everything wrapped up nicely at the end. Where I was expecting a Requiem for a Dream end, I got one that was actually pleasant to watch. Lots of redemption, less prostitution for heroin. The only issue I take with the movie is the middle, which is surrounded by lightheartedness. I guess I just didn't like seeing the characters that I had really come to like get into such terrible situations.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Hello, internet (but probably just Facebook friends and followers on Twitter).

I am going to start a project. The goal: to watch one movie every day. It's really not all that ambitious, I'm sure lots of people accidentally do it, or maybe they do it on purpose, but I'm going to try it. Again.

This is probably the third or fourth time I've tried this, and the second I've had writing to go alongside it. It turns out the farthest I've gone was a little over a month, and all I had was a list of what I had seen. Maybe that's a sign telling me blogs about it ruin everything. But I will press on!

Tomorrow is the day I start. A year is a nice even amount of time, so I'm going to try to watch 365 movies in 365 days. I'm cheating a little with the numbers, because I could take a day off and then just watch two the next day, but oh well. One movie every day is the idea.

Much too long. To summarize: New movie, every day, with impressions afterward. Netflix queue, I'm coming for you.

Also, feel free to suggest some movies to me. I'll probably watch whatever you want me to. I saw the Bratz movie opening weekend, so my standards are pretty low. Not as unintentionally funny as you'd think a movie about dolls would be.