recent movies

I've been distracted by the screen saver thingy lately, so I've been slacking on my movie reviews. Here they are in the bulk Costco twelve-pack:

Call of Cthulhu

    I posted about this a while ago; it's a live-action version of the Lovecraft story of the same name, done in a silent movie style, with effects that also look "period". It was surprsingly well done! The lighting seemed a bit off in some scenes, especially near the beginning, but overall they did a really good job maintaining the look.

Before Sunset

    This is a sequel to Before Sunrise, the movie where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy walk around Vienna all night having a slacker-angst conversation. I liked that movie (much to my surprise, since I normally find talking-head movies like that to be a waste of the medium; and also I've hated everything else by Linklater). Before Sunset is a good sequel to it. It takes place ten years later, and the two characters haven't seen each other since. The whole movie is a real-time coversation where their slacker-angst has been replaced with middle-aged what-the-hell-went-wrong angst.


    Wow, I hated this movie. More specifically, I despised every character in it. It's a story set over a number of years in which two couples keep cheating on each other with members of the other couple. There's a whole lot of repeated "I need you, I can't live without you" dialog, which, every time, just left me thinking, "ok, why?" Which maybe was the point, but in the end it was just an exercise in watching hollow, untrustworthy people repeatedly betray each other, and really, who gives a shit.


    This was great. The whole movie was Dave McKean's artwork come to life, and that alone is reason enough to see it. (You may remember him as the guy who did the covers of Sandman.) The plot was surreal and dream-like, and didn't always make a lot of sense, but that was totally ok for this kind of movie. It had a lot in common with Labyrinth (of which it is arguably a loose sequel) but fortunately that similarity ended well before "David Bowie in a Tina Turner fright-wig".

When Night is Falling
    This is a little story about a Christian-school teacher who dumps her preacher-fiancé and runs off to join the circus with a lesbian acrobat she met in a laudromat. It's cute. In one of those weird coincidences, the travelling circus seems a lot like the one in Mirrormask.


    Some guys with a startup company in their garage accidentally build a time machine (oh no, I gave away the big obvious secret!) The fictional science is pretty interesting, and some of the inter-personal tension and betrayal is well-handled, but the plot is needlessly confusing. In the commentary they claim that a lot of this was on purpose, but really, it was just sloppy-as-hell writing. There were parts that were confusing that were certainly not intentional "ambiguity".

    They made this movie for approximately no money, so all the reviewers cut them a huge amount of slack for that -- and they did do a very good looking job technically -- but you can't blame "failing to actually express the plot" on budget.


    This movie was incomprehensible and boring. It felt like I was watching The West Wing in Spanish without subtitles. Maybe there was a good movie in here tying to get out, but I couldn't tell. Individual scenes were good on their own, but I was left with little clue how it was all supposed to fit together, or even who half of the main characters were.

    Also the electrocution-in-the-pool scene pissed me off, because electricity doesn't work that way.

Good Night and Good Luck

    I enjoyed this, though it felt like a much smaller story than I was expecting, and in the end it felt like what they accomplished was pretty trivial. If in fact it wasn't trivial, they didn't do a very good job of expressing why that was. Murrow's conflict with McCarthy felt like it was almost at the same scale as the sub-plot about the two secretly-married co-workers. The look of it was great, as was the acting, though I think I caught lung cancer from this movie.

    I think The Insider told a better version of the "reporter versus corporate bosses" story.

Night Watch

    Sucked. Everyone made a big fuss over the subtitles in this movie (which slide around and are colored and stuff) which is a neat trick, but really, so what. The movie starts off as, basically, good-vampire-cops versus bad-vampires, and then staggers through a few different disjoint subplots about an apocalypse prophecy, a "chosen one", etc. It was bleak and dark and grimy and very, very Russian -- which is to say, long, boring, and full of alcoholics. (And dirtbag men in 1980s Adidas track suits.)

    The overriding theme of this movie was "you say you're the good guys but you're just as bad!" You can tell it's the theme because it's in the dialog over. And over. And over again. I get it already! Wow, it's so fucking deep I think I'm getting the bends. I'll be in the decompression chamber.

    In a vampire movie, please stick to the core competency of kicking ass and drinking blood, ok? Thanks.

    Also, I think that if I was the thousand year old leader of all vampires, I'd have a nicer office. It wouldn't look like the back room of a sweat-shop, even if I was Russian.

Underworld: Evolution

    Another day, another shitty vampire movie. Now, I'm one of the few people who actually liked the first Underworld. I thought it looked great, especially for its miniscule budget, and I liked how they pulled off having a dense backstory while still essentially being a chase-and-ass-kicking movie. Also, hot chick in corset with sword. Dude.

    This one, though, was awful. The plot was hard to follow, and I couldn't tell half of th characters apart: "Wait, is this the same guy, or his brother? Wait, didn't he die in the last movie? Wait, is this guy really the flying monkey from earlier? Ah, fuck it, who cares." It felt like a bad adaptation of a novel, where they tried to compress 800 pages of prose into 100 pages of script. Also, they somehow left out the essential Hotness.

V for Vendetta

    Alan Moore disowned this movie because he couldn't get over his bad experiences with DC Comics and with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie. That's too bad, because this movie was really very faithful to his writing.

    There were a number of places where it diverged from the comic where I thought that was a mistake, but the were also a number where it diverged and I was glad that it did: they excised a few sub-plots that didn't really advance the story. (For all its awesomeness, the V comic did bog down in the middle.)

    It was a very good movie. Moore criticised it for changing the story's conflict from "Government versus Anarchy" to "American Neo-Consevatives versus American Liberals", but I don't know what he was talking about (perhaps an early draft of the script?) because the movie I saw was definitely the former.

    I think the biggest mis-step the adaptation made was to make Evie basically lower-middle-class. The comic had a real Handmaid's Tale feel to it, where women were essentially property, and it opens with Evie's first night as a prostitute. By starting her off with a corporate job, they took a lot of the desperation out of her. Likewise, I thought they didn't really sell why the people were ready for revolution. All we ever see of the regular citizens is them complacently sitting in the pub or living room watching TV. What made them get up and march? The comic handled this with the destruction of the surveilance network, and the resultant crackdown with government thugs in the streets; the movie only barely hinted at that.

    I thought it was a cheap shorthand to make the government actually use Nazi-esque imagery (uniforms, color schemes, etc.). That was silly; actual fascism will never look like that again.

    I was disappointed that they didn't include This Vicious Cabaret, the song that comprised half of one issue of the comic (and recurs throughout). It was released as a single in the 80s (word by Alan Moore, music by David J of Love and Rockets / Bauhaus) and it's a fantastic song that perfectly captures the feel of the story.

    The "V" single was later re-released on David J's album On Glass, which is also out of print, but due to be re-issued soon. Fortunately it's not hard to track down an MP3 online: Hidden City posted one here, and if that goes dead, you can at least hear a 30 second clip at Amazon. (I see that David is touring with The Dresden Dolls this year, and there couldn't be a more perfect match.)

Soul Plane

    Ok, I didn't really watch this; Tivo foisted it on me, and I fast-forwarded through it and watched about ten minutes throughout, but my god, how do movies like this get made? Are there people who think this is funny? These jokes are so old they have Alzheimers! A fetus could tell you the punchline from the setup. It's like it wrote itself (which is not a good property of comedy). I guess this movie demonstrates that it's not "blackface" if black people do it; but neither is it funny.

    (I was flipping channels the other day and came across a stand-up comic making jokes about Asians having small dicks, and mixing up "L" and "R" sounds -- but oh the irony, he was Asian! Same thing.)

    Anyway, this movie made me wonder a few things:

    • Do you think Tom Arnold makes any money doing this kind of crap? I mean more than he would make doing something he'd be better at, like selling shoes?
    • That actress who played his wife -- the uptight suburban helmet-hair woman with the too-far-apart eyes, who always plays exactly the same role -- what do you figure she's like in real life? I mean, she's a Holywood actress, so she must be an extroverted schmoozer, right? Does she wear her hair like that to the parties where her agent is doing coke off a hooker's ass?

    • Likewise, those guys whose entire acting career has consisted of playing cops -- what's that like for them? Did they, at some point when they were in their drama school "movement" class, learning how to wave their arms and emote like a tree, really be the tree, did those guys ever have a moment of clarity where they realized "I'm going to spend my entire career playing cops from New Jersey"? These are not, after all, the kinds of people who become cops. These people were the A/V Nerds.

    These are some of the questions I have. I have more.

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