Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Blue Steel

This one’s about a rookie NYC cop, Megan Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies, Virus)), that stops a robbery and blows Tom Sizemore (in his film debut) away on her first day.  Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver (Timecop, The Arrival)) was there to witness it and decides to take the bad guy’s gun after he drops it.  Eugene then goes on a killing spree with it because you know, he’s insane.  He’s also kind of obsessed with Megan and shows his affection by scratching her name on the bullet casings that he uses to murder people.

This is one of those movies where the less you know the better it’ll be.  For the first half or so it seems kinda typical and you know where things are headed but then it totally changes direction.  And then after that you think you know how things will unfold but again it veers down a stray path.  This picture keeps you on your toes and I like that.  What starts out as an orderly and seemingly predictable film devolves into total chaos.

The reason why I checked this out is because it was directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Point Break) and I’m a fan of some of her work.  This was done in between Near Dark and Point Break, right in the butter zone for a not great but potentially very interesting piece of cinema.  And actually I think this one is kind of great.

Jamie Lee Curtis is pretty good in this and was a nice choice because she’s not supposed to be a cop exactly.  The story takes place over her first couple of weeks on the force so she hasn’t become this hard boiled callous person.  She’s still new to the job and hasn’t experienced a lick of action.  Curtis feels right because she’s not totally girly or totally macho.  She’s believable as a regular person who wants to be a cop.

But when it comes down to it this is Ron Silver’s show.  I haven’t seen him in very many movies but does he always play a creepy asshole?  He sure is good at it.  I like that they made sure we get that he’s a fucking lunatic but at the same time I also dig that they left things vague.  We don’t delve into Eugene’s psyche or are told what his overall plan is.  And I think that’s because he doesn’t know himself.  This guy’s just making it up as he becomes more and more unstable.

The look of this one is very 90’s Tony Scott-esque (which is good).  There are lots of beams of light shooting in from windows that turn rooms into these shadowy smoky spaces.  Manhattan feels grimy and seedy.  It’s shot well too, especially Bigelow’s superb use of slow motion (a trademark for her).  When the guns are fired it’s so awesome because they sound like fucking cannons that have a ton of firepower behind them.  I liked the opening credits with close ups of a gun (a .44 or .38 or something that has only six chambers, I don’t know dick about guns) in blue lighting set to a very minimalist score.  The end credits also have a cool song that’s kinda eerie and empty.        

The thing that might throw people is that this movie is terribly segmented but I think it works because the next section is crazier than the last and as long as you can keep that up you’re good.  This is more how I thought Red State was going to feel because Kevin Smith said that when he wrote it he purposely jumped to something totally different when he felt the audience knew where he was taking the story.  But I thought that film flowed pretty naturally and worked real well.  Sure you’re in a completely different spot at the end from where you started but how you got there makes sense.  It’s a fun flick that I recommend by the way.  With Blue Steel all of the scenes in the second half are like separate ideas unto themselves.  It feels like Bigelow (who co-wrote this) wanted to change the direction of the story and the type of movie it was on a daily basis.  That sounds like it should be a fucking disaster but like I said this actually works and keeps things fresh.

There were so many times when I thought the film was going to end but it just kept going.  I got excited when it didn’t because I wanted to see what dark alley it was going to take me down next.  I had a lot of fun with this picture.  It just needs a better title than the generic Blue Steel.         

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Royal Wedding

Royal Wedding was ok.  It’s par for the course for Fred Astaire with one huge exception.  This one has the famous dancing-around-the-room-defying-gravity scene.  And it doesn’t disappoint.  It’s definitely one of the coolest fucking things ever filmed.  From a technical standpoint it’s impressive and imaginative but from a dancing standpoint it’s a totally fucking crazy idea. 

If you’re not a fan of musicals I wouldn’t say it’s worth watching just for that but if you are then you should see it.  It was directed by Stanley Donen who did Singin’ in the Rain and the music video for Lionel Ritchie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” which uses the same dancing-around-the-room gag.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Elvis (1979)

After the gigantic hit Halloween, John Carpenter decided to try his hand at telling the story of Elvis Presley.  An interesting choice to say the least.  On the Big Trouble in Little China commentary track Carpenter says that he got the job because the producers saw that he did the Halloween theme so he must know about music and therefore Elvis.  It turns out John is a big Elvis fan so it worked out.

The DVD had been sitting on my counter for weeks and I was apprehensive about popping it in because of the 2 h 45 min running time.  Eventually I stopped being a baby and just watched it.  And overall it was good.

When the music starts up the first thing you’ll hear is not Elvis actually but Ronnie McDowell doing an impersonation.  There are a lot of interesting bits in this film in terms of production and this is one of them.  You see, at times McDowell does sound like Elvis, and pretty dead on too mostly when he does the down tempo songs and ballads, but at others he doesn’t sound at all like the guy, more when McDowell attempts the up tempo hits.  I’m sure you’re all asking yourselves, “why didn’t they just use the original Elvis recordings?”  If you want to do that then there are two directions you could go in.  One is you could change the picture to accommodate the recordings you have.  This would mean montages set to the music, shots of recording sessions and TV appearances.  You wouldn’t be able to have Elvis sing anywhere, anytime, in any situation.  Seems kinda restrictive.  Not that you couldn’t make a good movie doing that but you would have to tailor the visual to meet the audio and maybe you don’t quite get the film you wanted to make.  The other route you could go is to combine the original recordings with new ones and use the right one in the appropriate situation but that would sound awkward and sloppy because you’re not gonna fool a lot of people.  They’re gonna know which is the real Elvis and which is the impersonator.  So the only other way to go is to just record select songs again with a new guy, which is what they did here.  And for the most part it works fine.  Like I said, at first it’s a little weird but you get used to it pretty quick.  Doing it this way enabled the filmmakers to do things like have Elvis sing “Good Rockin’ Tonight” under a tree by himself or a short snit bit of “Sweet Caroline” to Lisa Marie.  Since they had total freedom to do shit like that I think they used it very well.  So the fact that there’s no original Elvis didn’t bother me.

Moving on, let’s talk about Kurt Russell.  This was the other reason why I didn’t watch this sucker right when I got it.  I couldn’t imagine Kurt portraying a convincing Elvis and it’s not that I don’t think he’s a good actor.  I think he’s the fuckin’ man but it’s precisely because I know him that I couldn’t picture him in this role.  At first I couldn’t stop thinking, “it’s Kurt fucking Russell” but after like two scenes that faded away and I saw Elvis fucking Presley.  As badass and great as Kurt is as Snake Plissken I think this is the best performance I’ve seen him give.  It’s fucking uncanny how well he plays Elvis.  Ok, sure Kurt may not look like him but he sounds and moves exactly like the man.  I was blown away by how real he played it because we all know the caricature of Elvis and it would’ve been easy to ham it up and throw every cliché in the world in there.  They resisted and what we get is a true depiction.

This film marks the first time Carpenter and Russell worked together so you know Kurt wasn’t cast just because he and John are buddies (like I’m sure if Tim Burton did an Elvis picture he would cast Johnny Depp  because he just can’t do a movie without him).  On the short making-of special that came on the DVD Carpenter says that he recognizes that Russell doesn’t look like Elvis but he cast him because he understands who Elvis is and what he was all about.  That’s really cool man.  Carpenter picked a dude that had the right feel as opposed to the right look which, again, would have been really easy trap to fall into.

As far as story goes this is kind of a tough one.  Just to let you guys know where I’m coming from I like Elvis.  I’m not a mega fan or anything but I do have a bunch of his records and have read a little about his life.  And as far as I could tell this version is very accurate.  The things I knew for sure like how the recording of “That’s All Right” came to be and Elvis bombing at the Grand Ole Opry were all there and the parts in between seemed to fit.  I expected things to be exaggerated or changed for dramatic purposes but I don’t think that was done.  They really tried to create the most realistic portrayal of Elvis’ life.  Now while that’s all well and good and commendable there’s just one small problem with it, Elvis’ story isn’t the most interesting tale out there.  This was the third reason why I put off checking this piece out.  Elvis’ rise wasn’t filled with a ton of heartbreak or crazy ass stories.  It was actually straightforward and no different than your average artist’s rise to fame.  The only real difference is that his happened faster and of course, he became bigger than anyone on the planet.  But the part where he’s playing a lot of shows and working his ass off entertaining crowds every night while his records steadily ascend in popularity and he gets more and more recognition is usually how bands and singers get famous.  Later, once the phenomenon exploded Elvis mostly shuttered himself away in Graceland and switched to making more movies with little music production.  Elvis didn’t lead an off the wall life really.  So if you’re looking for an unbridled sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll saga you won’t find it here.

However, it’s Elvis’ personality that makes up for it.  I was very happy to see that they didn’t turn him into some arrogant rock star asshole because they thought it would be more exciting.  This is faithful to who he was as a human.  Elvis was a sweetheart.  He was just a very good person.  And he was able to remain so because he didn’t have to change who he was in order to sell more records and become famous.  It worked for him to be nice so he stayed nice.  All of the shit they throw in here like Elvis giving away cars like spare change and other expensive gifts is all true.  He was always giving people overwhelming amounts of money or high priced presents.  He didn’t seem to look down on anyone and his mostly joyful outlook on life comes through in this film.  But so does his naiveté which is important.  Elvis wasn’t some shrewd businessman, he was a guy that loved to sing and whenever he performed you could tell he was having the time of his life.  The filmmakers captured that and weren’t afraid to show it.

The dramatic aspects are given equal weight as well so it’s not all sunshine.  And like I said, I don’t think they inflated or downright made up shit about the man to make the movie more palatable but instead worked with the real figure.  His obsession with his mother, yearning to not be so famous and strained romances are all presented in full force.  The problem with Elvis being fucking Elvis is that he couldn’t do much or go anywhere.  He had to surround himself with hired friends and resort to shit like renting out an arcade if he wanted to go somewhere in public.  His struggle to deal with a level of fame that almost no one has to deal with is a key part of the film that Carpenter handles well.

I’ve wondered why there hasn’t been a big budget Hollywood biopic on Elvis yet.  There have been two TV specials, this one and another one done in 2005 (which by the way, looks like the shitty exaggerated, heavily dramatized version of the king’s life that I’ve been saying this picture could’ve easily been), but no attempt at another movie like Ray or some shit.  And this here film may be the reason.  It’s comprehensive, detailed and well executed (alright maybe it was shot a little stiff and that montage at the very end is fuckin’ weird but it’s still well done).  There really doesn’t need to be some blockbuster version out there.  This one has almost everything you need to know about Elvis (well, up until 1969 anyway).

If you’re not that into the king or are only mildly interested in his life then you’ll probably find this to be boring.  But I thought it was great and if you’re an Elvis fan I highly recommend this piece.

From the movie:

The real deal (but keep in mind that since this was for TV Elvis was forced to restrain himself somewhat):

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We're Bringin' Sexy Back Wrap Up

Once again here are the films that made up the Bringin’ Sexy Back segment:

Well I picked a pretty crappy group of films for myself this time.  Only two had some real thrills (Jade, Color of Night) and there were a whole bunch of sex gamers (9 ½ Weeks, Another 9 ½ Weeks, The First 9 ½ Weeks, Wild Orchid and I could see Indecent Proposal just barely fitting into that category) which aren’t nearly as good as sexy thrillers.

I’m not gonna lie, it was really tough getting through the last couple starting with Another 9 ½ Weeks.  There were some other pictures I checked out but decided not to comment on like Death Ride to Osaka (aka Girls of the White Orchid) and Immortality (which also goes by the baffling yet pretty fuckin’ cool sounding title The Wisdom of Crocodiles).  Death Ride was a pretty interesting film actually, especially considering it was based on a true story.  If you’re into those trapped-in-a-foreign-country-with-no-way-of-escaping pictures like Not Without My Daughter or Return to Paradise you’ll like that one.  The Immortality of Wise Crocodiles was lame though.  It had the perfect setup for a vampire sexy thriller but decided to go in a tamer and more boring direction. 

I also went back to check out Disclosure but decided against writing about it.  There’s only the one scene where Michael Douglas and Demi Moore almost have sex (although it does get a 9 out of 10 on the raunch scale).  I figured since they don’t actually have sex and there’s nothing else sexy in the movie it’s hard to call it a sexy thriller.  There are plenty of thrills to be had and it does star Michael Douglas but I would just call it a thriller.  You know what?  Strike that.  This is a 90’s computer movie with bad early CGI and babbling on in computer talk that sounded confusing and cutting edge at the time but now it comes off as embarrassing.  I love those fucking films.  They got dated really fast and will only look stupider as time goes on.  So don’t look at Disclosure as a sexy thriller necessarily but as a cheesy awkward 90’s computer flick.  So naturally it gets my recommendation.

Alright let’s get to this round’s awards:

The movie with the most sex scenes: Zandalee with five.  Runner up goes to Wild Orchid with four.

The movie with the most after sex scenes: 9 ½ Weeks and Another 9 ½ Weeks tied with two.  All the others either had one or none which is surprisingly low for all of these pictures.

Most interesting place where sex was had: This is a tough one but I think I’m gonna go with the limo going through a tunnel in Wild Orchid.  I know this is a similar situation as the car wash sex scene in Crash I chose last time but having sex in a moving vehicle is not something you see in a movie too often.  There were other interesting locations like an abandoned hotel (Wild Orchid), a restaurant (The First 9 ½ Weeks), a pool (Color of Night) and a clock tower (9 ½ Weeks).  There were also two back alley scenes, one from 9 ½ Weeks and one from Another 9 ½ Weeks.

The movie with the most amount of recognizable faces (cameos): Even though Color of Night and Indecent Proposal are tied with six I’m gonna give it to Color of Night because Sheena Easton and Herbie Hancock aren’t actors and their screen time is very brief making them hard to catch.  Runner up goes to Zandalee with five.

Coolest supporting cast: I dunno man, you got Michael Biehn, Richard Crenna and Victor Wong from Jade in one corner and Lance Henriksen, Brad Dourif and Eriq La Salle from Color of Night in the other.  This one’s not easy.  I’m gonna go with Color of Night because Lance Henriksen and Brad Dourif got more screen time than Michael Biehn and Richard Crenna.

Most absurd plot: Once again it’s Color of NightIndecent Proposal’s plot is kinda out there but Color of Night’s makes absolutely no sense.  It’s a murder mystery that doesn’t feel like one.  The story meanders lazily and tries to incorporate too many elements and characters.

Best title: While Indecent Proposal and Jagged Edge sound very intriguing Crimes of Passion encompasses the perfect balance of sexy and thriller.  Plus it’s an actual phrase that people use unlike fatal instinct or color of night.

Sexiest movie: Crimes of Passion was probably the dirtiest one and Zandalee probably had the most amount of nudity all around but that ridiculous sex scene in Color of Night makes it the sexiest in my opinion.

Most thrilling movie: Jade.  I mean it was directed by William Friedkin and the other ones weren’t.  Runner up is Color of Night.

Best sexy thriller of this bunch here: Definitely Jade.  I really dug that picture.  It had excitement, intrigue, murder, a car chase, a badass lead, sex, conspiracy, mystery, assassination and so on.  It’s just a good solid fucking movie that you guys should check out.  I guess Color of Night would take second but that isn’t saying much considering the company I put it in.  Maybe I was a little hard on that film.  As I think back on it there are a bunch of things I remember fondly.  I guess it’s not that bad after all.  But I would still recommend seeing Jade first if you haven’t already.       

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Indecent Proposal

Let’s say some billionaire offered you a million dollars to have sex with your wife/partner/significant other/what have you.  Would you take the money?  Would you reject it on moral grounds?  Well this completely fantastical situation is the premise of Indecent Proposal.

Woody Harrelson (Game Change, Kingpin) and Demi Moore (Disclosure, Nothing But Trouble) are a cheesy married couple.  You know, they goof around and make each other laugh at stuff that isn’t funny, an innocent quarrel over dirty laundry leads to sex on the kitchen floor, they make googly eyes at each other and say shit like, “have I ever told you I love you?”  *Barf*  Woody is an architect so naturally he wants to build their dream home and Demi is in real estate so she finds the perfect plot of land by the ocean.  Unfortunately hard times hit and they lose their jobs as well as their half built house.  They only have a couple of thousand dollars left to their names.  So to remedy this Woody has the dumbest fucking idea ever: go to Vegas and win money.  To absolutely no surprise at all he loses everything.  This is where billionaire Robert Redford (The Sting, Jeremiah Johnson) steps in.  He eyes Demi and wants her proposing the indecent boning.  Woody and Demi think about it, agree to go through with it and then their relationship falls apart.

This film is fucking terrible.  And it’s not from a technical standpoint because this is veteran director Adrian Lyne (9 ½ Weeks) we’re talking about here.  At the same time this is director Adrian Lyne we’re talking about here.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so frustrated while watching one of his flicks before.

Ok so there are three main reasons why this thing sucks.  The first is that it’s predictable (and incredibly corny).  From the point that Woody and Demi go to Las Vegas forward you know everything that’s going to happen.  It couldn’t be any more formulaic if it tried.  First of all you know that this couple is going to accept the proposal because we wouldn’t have a fucking movie if they didn’t.  And you know that they’re going to have a rough time staying together afterwards  because it’s not the kind of thing that you can just forget about which, and I shit you not, is exactly what they try to do.  Demi says that once it’s done they’ll never talk about it.  Now I’m no therapist but it has got to be very unhealthy to just try and forget that you or your wife got poked by some dude for a million goddamn dollars.  It’s a big deal.  Also, you can totally tell that Redford is gonna try to steal Demi away.  The man could have sex with a lot of other chicks and pay way less for it so the fact that he’s going after someone else’s girl probably means that he wants more than just a roll in the hay.  And the ending is so lame with no surprises or shocking revelations.  This whole thing is love triangle 101.

The second hindrance is that the characters suck.  I did not feel sorry for Woody and Demi when they lost all of their money at the roulette table.  If you’re gonna do a dumb fuckin’ thing like bet your last couple of thousand all at once on red then you deserve to lose everything.  This scene is supposed to be vital too because it’s when they hit rock bottom and have like not even a penny in their pockets.  But because they actually won initially when they first arrived in town I hate them even more.  When they get to Vegas Woody is up an unbelievable $24,000 on the first day.  They’re so happy they have sex on the winnings.  But the next day his luck runs out and he blows it all.  Like everything.  If it were established that he’s a gambling addict then I would feel sorry for him a little but I think it’s that he’s blinded by desperation.  Demi reminds Woody that he wasn’t supposed to go below a certain amount (I think it’s like $5,000 which is too low in my opinion, it should have been more like $20,000 or $18,000) and that piles on to my hatred of this character.  If you’re not a professional gambler then you shouldn’t be betting everything you have at the tables.  It’s really naïve to think that you can just go to Vegas and waltz out with a ton of money like it’s an ATM.  Fuck ‘em.  They deserve to be broke.

And Demi isn’t any better.  She goes along with Woody’s gambling idea without question and she’s the one that comes up with the “let’s never bring up the sex for money deal again” idea.  Plus she ditches Woody during his darkest hour.  Sure he was being a dick constantly mistrusting her and being suspicious of every move but she refuses to have a fucking conversation about her romp with Redford which would clear the air.             

And Redford’s a louse of a character which leads me to the third and final overarching point.  Like Mickey Rourke in 9 ½ Weeks I think Robert Redford is supposed to be charming and we’re supposed to be on his side ‘cause you know, underneath all those billions he’s a human being with feelings, needs and wants just like the rest of us.  But his fucking creepy bargain with Woody to have sex with his wife for bills isn’t some clever romantic ploy.  It’s fucking arrogant.  Redford never doubts for a second that they won’t take his offer either.  So he knows that if he ropes in the right people at the right time and throws enough money at the situation then he’ll get what he wants.  I also found it really terrible that Redford asks Woody and not Demi for permission.  They both treat her like a fuckin’ toaster, an object that’s incapable of forming her own thoughts or making her own decisions.  Redford comes off as slimy, first trying to buy up and then steal away Demi.  It’s like the prick feels entitled.    

This isn’t a good picture.  The whole thing seems unwarranted.  We’re not shown if Woody and Demi try to get other jobs or think of other ways of getting money besides borrowing.  So it’s like one day all of their money’s gone and a few days later they go to Vegas.  We don’t see their plight as they become poor or feel their pain because they never experience things like the power being turned off, running out of food, struggling to get critical medication or other oppressive shit.  Instead we see that they live in a nice house with a garden out back.  There aren’t any cockroaches, rats, a leaky roof, jammed doors, a broken heating/cooling system, a busted stove, dilapidated furniture, etc.  I mean I thought to myself, “why would they want to give this place up it seems really good?”  But I guess it’s a dream to have a house that they built together and I can’t fault them for that.  You have to keep in mind that the main reason why they take the indecent proposal is to finish construction on their dream house.  It would’ve helped me see their motivation if the place they are currently living in is a shithole.  But since we don’t see these two suffer (and them gambling their money away willingly doesn’t count unless you have an addiction) I never got on board with their crisis.  There wasn’t any tension.      

The question that the movie poses is a fun hypothetical to ponder but when you see it in action you realize that it’s not an elegant affair by any means.  With that said there’s a strong possibility that I would take the cash.  Hell, I could use it.

Sex Scenes: One and it’s not the sex deal sex.  What a jip.

After Sex Scenes: One.

Strange Cameos: Seymour Cassel plays Redford’s valet.  I know he’s famous for Cassavetes’ Faces but I know him from the lost classic Tin Men and the disappointing Boiling Point (1993).

Oliver Platt (The Three Musketeers, Lake Placid) is Woody’s lawyer friend/comic relief that sets up the contract for the sex deal.

A rather chubby Billy Bob Thornton (A Simple Plan, Armageddon) has one scene as an onlooker that tells Woody who billionaire Redford is while he’s playing $10,000 a bet cards.

This is a really weird one but Rip Taylor (lots of TV and comedy shit) plays Demi’s boss later in the movie who threatens to fire her if she doesn’t sell Redford a mansion.

Weirder still is Sheena Easton and Herbie Hancock make brief appearances as themselves.  Herbie gives an intimate performance for only Demi and Redford on Redford’s private yacht but they don’t seem to give a shit.  At least Sheena gets to sing at a party.  She looks like she’s having more fun.