31 July 2007

Star Trek: TOS 1.22: "The Return of the Archons"

A bit like the society depicted, this episode is dull and lifeless.

I think it contained the very first mention of the Prime Directive... and the very first breaking of that law. Meh. Destroying a 6000-year-old culture: what could go wrong?

No one will ever, ever beat Kirk at being able to talk a computer into suicide. He's the Michael Jordan of that sport.

yr: 2267
sd: 3156.2
ad: 9 Feb 1967

25 July 2007

OLR: The Future of Food (2004)

That's it; my nearly-here new baby will be eating organic baby food. (7/10)

d. Deborah Koons

23 July 2007

Rodriguez (addendum)

1999 - From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (directed by Scott Spiegel) - This was such a bad movie, I actually kind of feel sad for the director. Growing up with Sam Raimi and then watching him become a beloved and successful filmmaker must be hard. You can certainly see Spiegel desperately trying to come up with a cinematic style like his pal. Rather than using the quick-zooms and low stedicam shots favored by Raimi, Spiegel has apparently decided that he is the POV man. We get point-of-view shots of everything from pools of blood to phones to a knob on a safe. They make no sense, are incredibly distracting and, ultimately, make the entire film feel like a high-budget college flick. (4/10)

2000 - From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (directed by P.J. Pesce) -It's a shame that many people, due to the ordering of the numbers in the titles, will skip this prequel after the huge disappointment of part 2. I was taken completely by surprise at how good this Old West/action/bandito/vampire flick was. It's beautifully shot, packed with great characters and is effused with that great Eastwood western flavor I love. My favorite character is the dead-on, historically accurate portrayal of Ambrose Bierce by Michael Parks (who is unrecognizable from his role as the ill-fated policeman in the prologue of part 1). Better than the original. (8/10)

16 July 2007

Rodriguez (1998-2001)

1998 - The Faculty - In light of Nixer's obsession with Invasion of the Body Snatchers in Roadracers, Rodriguez's choice of this project suddenly makes more sense. He's been dying to make his own body-snatcher flick. That's fine. I think every generation should get one of these (I'd like to claim the '78 version as mine, rather than the crappy '90s The Puppet Masters). It's one of those essential horror/sci-fi stories that can be retold in a variety of configurations.

This configuration brings the invasion into the slasher movie's favorite setting: a high school. Surprisingly, this hadn't been done before but it makes perfect sense. The cliques of high school could mirror the terror of conformity the body snatchers represent. This flick didn't explore this idea very effectively, unfortunately. The actual snatching of the kids in the school was put off towards the end of the film, mostly to use them as a mob to chase the uninfected kids around. Most of the movie is spent battling the faculty, as the title suggests. The group who defeat the snatchers, of course, are drawn from each of the standard high school cliques and their diversity defeats the menacing conformity. Too bad the menace was shown just as some shots of kids getting along inside of the normally chaotic school. It's a missed opportunity.

The movie fell similarly short on a number of plot points. At one point, Casey's principal tries to get one of his parents into her office for a talk by themselves as a ruse to infect the parent with a snatcher. There's a moment of tension as no one believes Casey's story. If his parents are infected, we assume he'll lose them forever; he's about to watch them walk into their deaths. Some fast talking saves the day, but it doesn't matter too much. We find out later that every infected person will be A-OK if the queen snatcher is killed. This also results in an unusually low body count for a teen horror movie. None of the (human) teens buy the farm. Only a couple of teachers meet their fate.

Otherwise, it's an alright horror flick. Unlike others of my generation, I have no problem with so-called "WB horror." Never a watcher of '90s teen dramas, horror movies casting from those shows don't seem any different from other teen movies with teen actors.

And to Miramax: eat me. This is your third non-anamorphic transfer in a row (after Four Rooms and From Dusk Till Dawn). It's the HDTV era: zooming these things makes 'em look like crap. (6/10)

1998 - The Ten Minute Film School - This is a brief peak into the shooting of El Mariachi created by Rodriguez for the DVD release. Color me impressed. His hyper-efficient shooting style is a beauty to behold. He films without sound partially to not waste any film shooting slates. He films all of his actors' takes in a row, substituting zooms for camera moves or angle changes. He records all of the dialogue and sound after filming is complete so he can use the actual location's sounds. If an actor screws up, say, a jump over a balcony: stop filming, change angles and have him pick up from slightly before the mistake so it can all be editing together. Every amateur filmmaker and film student in college should watch this. (8/10)

1998 - Ten More Minutes: Anatomy of a Shootout - What did 1000 times more money in the budget do for Rodriguez's shooting style? Rodriguez shows us using footage from the making of Desperado. Mostly, his style has been completely changed. He has so much money, he can have all of the actors and stunt people act their scenes for his video camera so he can pick out the angles he will use when he shoots it for real on a later day. No more frenetic shooting from the hip; he can take his time and figure out things before committing them to celluloid. This is sound advice. If you're filming your first big-budget studio movie, you're going to want to have all your ducks in a row. It's just not as useful as the previous Ten Minutes were for the amateur filmmaker. (7/10)

2001 - Spy Kids - A film I'm looking forward to watching again with my future daughter. It's imaginative, colorful, and full of energy. There are robots made of thumbs, mutants, jetpacks and submarines. There's a solid kid's movie message about families sticking together (even if they sometimes fight). I don't recall any product placement. Who knew the director of Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn had this in him?

Extra points go to Teri Hatcher for walking around the entire movie with a hilarious hairdo. (7/10)

12 July 2007

OLR: Curdled (1996)

You can't take your eyes off of Angela Jones, but the rest of the film is a bit tedious. (6/10)

d. Reb Braddock

10 July 2007

Guest OLR: Topo, El (1970)

My only question: why didn't I see this sooner? (7/10)

d. Alejandro Jodorowsky

04 July 2007

Tarantino (1997)

1997 - Jackie Brown - Technically, I can't really think of anything wrong with this film, save it being, perhaps, a bit overlong. Tarantino stages his scenes to please the eye. The casting is spot on. De Niro, as always, disappears into his role. The resurrection of grindhouse vets Pam Grier and Robert Forster into a big-budget modern film worked surprisingly well. Unsurprisingly, Tarantino's soundtrack choices were beyond criticism. The script, adapted from Elmore Leonard's novel Rum Punch, ran smoothly from start to finish. Still, the film doesn't really do anything for me.

Perhaps one reason is that the movie is essentially about a lady of "advancing age" who figures out a good way to retire to Europe. If you're casting '70s mainstays into the lead roles, the subject of aging is going to have to come up. I'm just not sure this is what me -- or the audiences at the time -- were looking for in a follow-up to Pulp Fiction. Tarantino's previous two -- successful -- films were about "gangsters doing gangster shit," non-chronological story weaving, revelations and growth of character. Here we have a couple of lonely people past their prime doing the standard "double-double cross" crime fiction jig. Personally, gimme The Big Lebowski if you're going to dance to that tune.

Rather than the double-crossing and money smuggling, I was mostly interested in Cherry's crush on Jackie. I do admire the decidedly non-Hollywood ending this subplot generates: Cherry's just too straight and narrow to let go of his life to cavort in Europe with a girl and some stolen money. The shot of Cherry sobbing, blurred, in the back of the frame was nice. But, it felt as though it was too little and too late. So much of the movie was spent elsewhere, outside of Jackie and Cherry's relationship, that this last grasp for some emotional resonance seemed slightly cheap. (7/10)

Rodriguez (1995-1997)

1995 - From Dusk Till Dawn - What I see on the screen are two buddies -- Rodriguez and Tarantino -- just having a good ol' time making a movie. It's half an action-crime movie welded onto half a horror-vampire movie; they made sure they covered the two ass-kickingest genres in cinema. It features Harvey "Mr. Wolf" Keitel, Fred "Black Caesa" Williamson, and Tom "Dawn of the Dead" Savini destroying hoards of vampires in every way imaginable, exploding the bloodsuckers in fountains of goo. Plus, Salma Hayek dances around in a bikini with a snake around her shoulders. Engineered to purely entertain is what this is. If you're in the proper mood, it achieves this objective.

Tarantino wrote the script and almost directed it himself. I think Rodriguez was probably a better choice to sit in the director's chair; though this is his first horror movie, it feels like his type of thing. I can see some echoes of From Dusk in the decade-later Sin City in Rodriguez's methods, though he's a lot rougher around the edges here. Tarantino casting himself as the perverted, teeth-grinding brother of George Clooney, I think, speaks for itself. Tarantino writing himself a part in which Salma sticks her foot in his mouth speaks even more for itself.

One thing that struck me about the mythology of this movie: a cross will work on the bloodsuckers. You don't see this too often anymore. In the modern era, religious icons tend not to bother vampires anymore; their weaknesses have been pared down to sunlight, garlic and stakes in the heart. I'm not a religious man so this is the state of affairs in vampire movies I prefer. But, every once in a while, it's nice to see the old-school rules go into effect. My question is this: what counts as water when creating holy water? Jacob blesses some tap water that they load into squirt guns and that works OK against the vamps. Think on this: vampires are made from people. People are 3/4th water. Vampires drink blood. Blood is 50% water. Couldn't Jacob bless the water in the vampires' bodies and make them instantly burn up? (7/10)

1997 - Scream 2: "Stab" - During the opening scene of this Wes Craven sequel, Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett Smith get killed while watching Stab, a movie-in-a-movie that recreates the opening scene from the first Scream. It's all very hip and meta. These days, though, it's impossible not to think of the similar opening scene from Scary Movie. Which, I suppose, is potentially even more hip and meta. Which ever is officially hipper and more meta, Rodriguez's directing work is merely workmanlike. His Miramax-ordained task was to re-film the opening scene from Craven's previous movie and make it look slightly more Hollywood. That's what he did. (5/10)